Don't be a bad manager: 7 tips to being a great leader

The job title manager can be misleading when it comes to demonstrating behaviors that establish you as an effective leader. Here are seven tips on how to be a great leader.

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

So you've been promoted to manager, and now you're ready to lead your team to new heights of success, right? Not necessarily. There are certain traits and behaviors that can make you more or less successful in your new role.

Let's start by defining managers vs. leaders.

What is a manager?

A manager can simply be a title that identifies the person authorized to lead a department or team and make decisions for the team. He or she may have all the right qualifications, but not necessarily the right set of skills or attributes to lead effectively.

What is a leader?

A true leader may not have the authorization to lead a department or to make decisions on behalf of a team, yet he or she possesses the optimal characteristics, behaviors, temperament, and mindset necessary to motivate and inspire a team to perform at their best.

To be a strong leader it's important to understand this difference and to be able to differentiate whether you are bringing out the best in your team. 

SEE: Tips for building and advancing your leadership career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In short, a manager delegates and a leader motivates. A manager is focused on task completion and a leader focuses on team performance and needs. Your behavior should help you to know which role you are playing.

A manager may choose to be authoritarian and may possess these beliefs and behaviors about their role. 

  • My primary role is to delegate work.
  • I need to keep myself walled-off from my employees.
  • I am superior to my employees.
  • My employees need to be monitored closely or micromanaged.
  • My employees need to think just like me. 
  • My career growth is more important than my employees' career development or growth.
  • I am almost always right/I do not make mistakes or admit when I'm wrong.

These beliefs or behaviors are not the only things that indicate you may not be an effective leader; there are many more potentially damaging ones that can negatively impact your team, your company, and your reputation.

Recognizing these destructive characteristics is only the first step in becoming a better leader. A leader is more likely to demonstrate through the following seven ways that they are capable of leading.

1. Jump in the trenches

There will be times when you will need to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your team to get the work done, rather than simply delegating and cracking down on your team if progress falls short of expectations. This is where leading by example helps your team members to see you as part of the team and not just the boss. You have to be willing to do what you ask your team to do.

When needed, to help your team maintain or improve their customer service metrics, you could literally roll up your sleeves and help them get through their mountains of paperwork.

2. Take time to actually get to know your employees

Unfortunately, some managers still believe they should keep interaction with their employees to a minimal, especially outside of work. Further, some managers may still be of the mindset that getting to know more about their employees' personal and family lives makes them vulnerable to be taken advantage of. The downside to having this mindset is that employees will withhold important information that can impact team performance, as well as their connection to you and the company.

To be an effective leader, you must understand the things that impact your employees, as well as how they are motivated, and this means understanding who they are as individuals. Take your team for morning coffee or a picnic lunch in a nearby park and have a non-work related conversation once or twice a month. 

3. Become a servant leader

Put distance between you and the term "boss," and become a servant leader who effectively supports the needs of your team to help them reach their full potential. Your needs must, to a great extent, become less important than the needs of the team and the company as a whole. To lead, your role must also be to support, mentor, and facilitate. 

Schedule monthly gripe sessions with individuals or full teams that gives them a chance to tell you what they need from you to do their job better. Set the expectation that some things may not be able to be resolved right away or at all. 

4. Trust your employees' skills, knowledge, and decision-making

Hopefully, you've hired employees with the right skills and capabilities for the job; if not, you've made your first mistake as a leader. If their performance falls short down the road, you can't fault them if they were ill-prepared from the start. 

Assuming you've hired the right person, let them do their job and trust in their abilities and decisions. Avoid the tendency to micromanage and allow them to grow and make their best decisions without undermining and frustrating them. Only step in when necessary.

5. Encourage ideas that challenge your own

Despite the fact that you are their manager, your team members likely understand their job far better than you do. It is virtually impossible for you to come up with all the ideas, especially when it comes to process improvements. Solicit, encourage, and adopt any ideas that are good--regardless of where they come from.

As an example, you could hold brainstorming sessions to give your employees a chance to share their ideas and then allow everyone on the team to anonymously vote on each idea before making any final decisions. 

Your team performance can only be as solid as the ideas that you allow your team members to share. If you stifle your employees' creativity, you will eventually stifle your own as well. 

6. Foster and facilitate opportunities for growth and career development

If you are the type of manager who chooses to withhold from your employees any opportunities for career development and growth, you may be doing yourself and everyone involved an injustice. 

Just as you have been given opportunities for advancement, you should do the same. To help your team members learn more, you could host lunch-and-learns with them whereby you can share your best tips or knowledge to help everyone learn new skills. 

When you help advance your employees' career growth, they are far more likely to appreciate and respect you as a leader and stay for the longer term. 

7. Admit when you're wrong or make mistakes

For many in management, it can be difficult to admit when they are wrong or have made a mistake. Your employees are more apt to develop respect for you if you allow yourself to be seen as making mistakes from time to time, assuming you allow them the same courtesy. Don't be afraid of humility--it doesn't make you appear weak; in fact, you're less likely to be unfairly judged and instead applauded for it. 

In summary

There are various ways to demonstrate that you are both a great manager and a leader. So roll up your sleeves and help out, get to know and trust your team members, become a servant leader, encourage independent thought, have some humility, and make sure to foster employee growth. 

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