The art of being a great manager (and it really is an art) is akin to that of a brilliant actor.
If you’ve ever occupied a position of authority in a business, you’ll know exactly what we’re referring to. Every time you enter the office, you’re expected to put on a performance – it’s highly unlikely that you’re the same person in front of your team as you are in front of your spouse or kids.
This doesn’t mean that managers are robotic or disingenuous, either. Asserting authority and keeping both staff and projects in line is incredibly challenging and calls on reserves of acting ability most managers probably didn’t know they had. Look back on your day as a manager and you’ll regularly think “was that really me?” – and that’s no bad thing at all.
However, no degree of training, worldly experience or mentoring from industry experts is capable of trumping the single most important aspect of management: communication.
For extroverts, communication usually comes naturally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re guaranteed to get it right. Similarly, if you’re an introvert and find yourself in a position of authority in business, communicating with teams en masse won’t feel natural and can be a significant inhibitor when it comes to achieving success in that role.
Managing staff and company objectives is a demanding process. When managed incorrectly, they can devour a manager of her time and result in long, stressful days where little is achieved beyond constant firefighting. When managed correctly, every day spent in the office can feel incredibly rewarding.
If you’re new to management or have found yourself in a managerial role for the first time, we’d like to settle your mind a little with our guide to great communication when you’re in a seat of power.
It all starts here. How do you present yourself to staff? What’s the first impression you give them upon entering the office each day? How do you make them feel when they walk into your office?
One’s body language can give an awful lot away. Folded arms may indicate guardedness, a lack of eye contact a clue that you’re not particularly at ease with the person in front of you; even the way in which you walk and carry yourself generally will force people to form a strong opinion of you, quickly.
This may all seem a little unfair; folding your arms might be comfortable, the lack of eye contact might simply be because you’ve spotted a vital email entering your inbox and your general demeanour may be the result of the terrible night’s sleep you had last night and the continuing demands of your newborn baby.
This is where managers and their ability to lead, regardless of the prevailing conditions, must shine through.
It should never be forgotten that body language is a form of communication, and you can make your nonverbal cues vastly more effective by following these three rules:
1) Use your hands to communicate (gesticulate at will, no matter how daft you feel!).
2) Make frequent eye contact – always.
3) Always face all of your body towards the person with whom you’re engaging – not just your head (your shoulders, legs, arms – the lot).
Involving the other party
Communication is a two-way thing. If it becomes too one-sided, someone is going to loose out.
As the manager, its your job to ensure that the team members with whom you have direct contact get an equal chance to have their say. In doing so, you’ll raise their engagement and satisfaction levels considerably. Likewise, if you fail to show engagement as the manager, the person you’re dealing with will quickly start to feel like they’re an inconvenience.
Here’s how to ensure everyone gets a fair stab at communication in your team:
• Ask plenty of questions… and then listen intently to the answers
• Be sympathetic
• Be clear with your responses and empower people to quiz you when they’re unclear on a particular point
• Encourage people to approach you when they have a question – employee to manager conversations shouldn’t only take place if their instigated by the latter
At some stage in your working life, you’ll come across a manager who’s mood dictates how successful the day turns out to be.
Don’t be that manager.
As the head honcho, it’s your job to set the tone, no matter where the team happens to be stationed, be it an office, factory or retail outlet. That means always putting on a brave, happy, positive face, no matter what’s happening behind the scenes.
Make no mistake – this can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it goes back to the point we noted at the start of this post. Putting on an act is an essential managerial skill, for if you’re unable to momentarily brush off any concerns that are playing on your mind while speaking to the team, the effect on your mood will shine through – and it won’t be particularly inspiring.
Problems within the business or at home need to be dealt with as appropriate and in a manner that doesn’t impact your work as a manager. Just as you should never take work home with you, the opposite is also true.
It’s up to you to create a constant flow of creativity, productivity and energy within the team. Encourage people to have a laugh, make jokes and let their personalities shine through by doing the same things yourself. Get it right, and you’ll never have to worry about people crossing the line, either, because the team will quickly establish a culture that is focused both on hard work and constant communication, be it work or non-work related.
No one expects you to bounce into the office each morning. In fact, many would probably rather you didn’t, but a degree of high energy is needed as a manager if you’re to communicate your ideas effectively.
Closely linked to your mood, the energy you display will be deeply infectious. With that in mind, would you rather have a team with low energy levels or one that is on-point throughout the day and eager to achieve maximum productivity?
Much like your body language, energy is also a form of communication. It is present in all walks of business life and will dictate the success of meetings and how well projects progress.
Ask yourself: how often does the team currently meet to discuss plans and goals? How often do you have one-to-ones with employees? Do team members regularly communicate their own ideas both with their peers and yourself?
Energy characterises these interactions within the team, and if it’s lacking in any way, you may have to look a little closer to home for the root cause. Frequent communication should foster a healthy degree of energy in the workplace, so encourage people to speak out at any given opportunity and proactively hold as many (brief) get together and one-to-ones as you deem necessary.
Remember – energy is infectious, so spread it around as often as possible!
All eyes are on you, but don’t let the spotlight blind you or give you stage fright – management can be incredibly liberating, exciting and rewarding.
However, as we’ve hopefully proved in this post, without great communication and a culture that empowers people to speak out whenever they need to, management can become a very tiresome practice.
There isn’t a manager on planet Earth that wants to deal regularly with disciplinary issues or disengaged members of staff, and by following the tips above, you’ll sit among the many satisfied managers on this planet who lead successful, productive teams and have a great deal of fun doing so.