Contrary to some academic schools of thought, successful “people management” is not a science, it’s essentially a skill. Some managers are blessed with great natural instincts for handling people, but – with a little self-nudge and a learning attitude – any manager can do just fine with colleagues and direct reports. It’s the workplace.
Your employees experience you by what you say and how you say it – and most obviously by what you do. It’s not that you have to be perfect, brilliant, or totally know everyone’s job down to the minutest detail, but the way you conduct yourself is huge.
Some bosses are the driven, Type A characters who can be inspiring to work for, especially if their intelligence or creative gifts help produce tangible rewards for everyone else. But all too often employees can experience those bosses as “too much.” They’re too jarring, too anxiety-provoking to deal with comfortably. Plus, it’s hard to match the obsessive-ness, or successfully get into alignment with a workaholic.
The key example a leader should set is the focus on the work, while we’re all here at work. A good manager can be the opposite of authoritarian – light-hearted, even funny. It’s possible to have wonderful, brief conversations about kids, baseball, movies – whatever – with relaxed bosses. But good bosses do tend to like to talk about, and get back to, the work – how are we doing, what needs to get done, what can we do better, how can I help you?
A good boss conveys a present focus on what’s on our plate now and appreciates efforts toward getting things done. Obviously it’s important to recognize good work, in both senses: be able to know good work when you see it, and also be generous about expressing it directly – out loud, or in person.
Say “thank you” anytime you reasonably can. Sure, you can overdo the praise, especially if it seems too pat or gratuitous, but receiving praise is a well-documented, compelling aspect of human motivation. People need to know you’re watching, recognizing what’s actually going on, appreciating all the effort, and ready to respond to problems.
And in that regard, integrity is more than not lying; it’s about honorable motivation around giving credit and accepting blame. Taking everyone’s efforts for granted is a major mistake. It’s noticed right away if it seems like you’re trying to take the credit for other peoples’ work. (And it hardly needs to be said that if you actually get caught it’s a major blow to credibility.)
Go the other way – convey that you’re the fortunate colleague of wonderful employees. Get them the resources they need. Shoulder blame and defend your people from criticism, especially from sniping, whether from outside or from on high.
Being relaxed can make all the difference. The message is that the work isn’t overwhelming: “We’re in this to succeed, and we all will succeed if we just stay focused, keep moving forward, learn from our mistakes, and support each other.” That’s not Pollyanna; that’s the way it really works at work.