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The Missing Skills of Managers

White room with a desk and empty brown leather chair, smaller desk and empty black chair in the background

The following is an extract from Influential Internal Communication.

Managers often become managers because they are excellent at the task. It is rare for someone to become a manager if they aren’t competent at completing the core task of the function and therein lies the challenge. The role of the manager is to manage the team. Spend time with them, guide them and help them. Communication is a fundamental skill needed and yet it is the skill that is rarely trained and invested in.

As a manager, you have to connect on a human level. And while the relationship with people in your team will be different depending on what you do, making time for people and listening is incredibly important. We covered the importance of listening to others in Chapter 1 and this is where you can see the need for it more.

The missing skills of managers

Make time

I conduct a lot of interviews and 1:1s with team members – whether it is to prep for a workshop with a senior team or to help understand why things aren’t getting done. During these sessions, my focus is on that individual completely and I allow two hours for the conversation (on average). This is part of my role and, as a manager, it is part of yours. Make time for your team, really listen to them, and help them overcome challenges (put your phone away, take notes, prep for the meeting). Recognize their achievements and work with them to help them achieve their own goals and aspirations.

If you don’t know how, ask for help

I see many managers managing people because they are really good at the tasks involved in the job. They have had little training in how to manage and they have had even less exposure to the importance of communication in that relationship. I am a firm believer in continuous learning and in doing so, I have a network of people I can lean on and resources I know I can go to for help. This isn’t a weakness, it is a necessity for me to be able to help, coach, mentor, and lead in what I do.

Be accountable and make others accountable

Make sure that what you say and what you do are the same. A few years ago, the Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted such a gap in business. Being aware of this gap and its impact can really change relationships and cultures in the workplace. If you say you’ll be at a meeting at 10, be at the meeting at 10. Consistent behaviour builds trust and enhances individual credibility.

 

Research from the Remotely Interested report on communicating with deskless workers showed that the line manager as a communicator is so important that it impacts the effectiveness of all other communication channels in the organization.

The data shows that the channel and content are actually irrelevant if the manager is not a good communicator – so if there is one thing that will help communication inside your organization, it’s an investment in line managers and their communication skills. Small tweaks can make a huge difference to efficiency and productivity in the workplace. As a leader, investing in your team’s communication skills will be so important to success. Individual relationships in the workplace, between an employee and a line manager, are fundamental to a good employee experience. This in turn means that the relationships need to be good and all relationships require strong communication to work well. We don’t often consider this in the workplace but the data tells us that the line manager’s skills in communication have such an impact that not providing budget and time to support this skill development will be detrimental to the organization both short and long term.

 

The importance of emotion

Simon Sinek has written and spoken extensively about leadership. His theories and books are often referenced as he identifies the things that will actually make a difference to people inside organizations.

In 2014 he spoke about leadership and the military, asking the question about whether certain roles attract certain types of leaders. He asks the question: where do leaders that have an emotional connection with their teams come from?

Is it about the people? The individuals? No, it is the environment they work in.

Why risk everything to save someone else? Because that person would do the same for me – it’s about trust and cooperation. But trust and cooperation are a feeling – I cannot tell you to trust me and know that you will. Like any feeling, the behaviour is what drives the shift and there are traits and things people can do to create a place of trust:

  • Being genuine and authentic – and being consistent in your style and approach;
  • Being trustworthy – if someone tells you something in confidence, it stays in confidence;
  • Having integrity – say you will do something, and do it;
  • Reliability;
  • Empathy.

To keep that organization alive and safe from the ‘dangers’ outside, a leader that creates an environment of trust is a leader that will create a great organization. If an employee follows the rules because they fear for their job, it doesn’t make for a great worker and it won’t make for a successful company. All of this can be classed as psychological safety, a phrase that is gaining traction with organizations, following research into team effectiveness when there is no fear.

Sinek goes on to compare leaders to parents. ‘We want the same for our children as we do for our employees: Opportunity, education, we discipline them when necessary all so they can grow up and achieve more than we could ourselves’.

There is a big difference between being an authority and having authority over people, and being a leader and having people follow you. Just like there is a balance between power with and power over others. All of it links us back to trust and the way we can make people feel – and all of that comes back to how we communicate. The words we use, our body language, and our tone all combined make up the complete communication. To be effective and influential, to create a safe place where people trust each other, support each other, and work as a team we need to be able to communicate in a way that does exactly that.

Six leadership skills to master

Compassion

This feels like something leaders are often told they don’t need but research shows that vulnerability and courage go hand in hand. And with that, comes compassion. We are all human and showing some of that in the workplace leads to more genuine relationships and more trust.

Look after yourself

One of the best book titles I have come across is Your Oxygen Mask First because it is exactly that approach that is needed. You are the most important and you need to focus on your health and well-being to be able to lead others. Whether that’s half an hour of yoga in the morning or five minutes – do what you can but make time for yourself, every day.

Respect

This works both ways. It works in every way. Respect has to be given to everyone regardless of hierarchy. For some, this comes naturally and for others, this feels alien. Respect the time and expertise of others, you hired them for a reason.

Time and attention management – yours and others’

You can only listen to someone speak for 20 minutes before the brain wants to do something else. And the optimal time for you to focus is around 52 minutes with a 17-minute break. You need to focus your attention, not your time. The meetings are needed, the conversations are needed, so focus your attention on what will make a difference, it’s not about time.

Self-awareness

Knowing your limits is a huge strength in leadership. It’s hard to show vulnerability and let someone know you need help, but find your trusted circle and use them to help you navigate and grow. No one expects you to do this alone so make sure you know when to ask for help.

Listening

Listening to those around you is a hugely important skill for leaders. Your response when someone is sharing or talking has more weight than that of a peer. Remember that how you show you’re listening is equally important – are you making notes, eye contact, etc? How do they know you are listening and that you care?