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Management Manifesto: How Managers Can Really Help Their People
Back in February, I sat down with author and consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni to chat about workplace growth and development, management, and effective leadership.
She said something that struck me:
“I don’t think any manager wakes up thinking, Today, I’ll throw up my people and keep them small. It’s in everybody’s best interest for employees to grow. That goes without saying.”
It’s true — no manager sets out to be a bad one. It’s not a position you take without understanding the leadership responsibilities involved.
And yet, over half of us have left jobs because of an issue with our leaders. Clearly, management doesn’t come naturally to everyone. What’s going on there?
It got me thinking — what does it actually take to be a helpful manager? What can you do to support your employees in their development, and what are the pitfalls that cause so many leaders to fail?
Let’s talk about it.
Why Managers Become Ineffective
Plenty of research has been conducted on the topic of management — and unfortunately, there’s no escaping the facts. Poor leadership drastically impacts workplaces left, right, and centre.
Korn Ferry has conducted a fair few studies into the impacts of poor management. I was shocked to find out that bad leadership is not only the leading cause of stress for employees but also leads to thousands of stress-induced deaths in the US.
Lives are on the line, people, and stress isn’t something to mess around with.
I also discovered that:
Eighty-two percent of employees feel uninspired by their manager
More than half don’t share their thoughts and ideas because input isn’t encouraged by their manager
The majority of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with their employees to a certain extent
Now, I’m a manager myself — and I know firsthand the difficulties that come with the role. But there’s got to be a way to improve these stats.
What’s going wrong? What are the main causes of poor management?
Running Out of Time
Managers look very different from one company to the next, but we’ve all got something in common: a jam-packed schedule. In Julie’s words, we’re “absolutely starved for time.” And I’d definitely agree with her there.
Management can involve any or all of the following:
Setting goals and objectives. You’re in charge of deciding the direction of your team and then making sure they get there.
Developing strategies and plans to reach those goals. What are the specific plans, processes, and projects that will help to achieve the desired outcome?
Scheduling tasks. You need to keep tabs on who’s doing what, when, and how.
Monitoring performance. It’s your job to ensure that everyone is on track and making progress toward the desired outcome.
Providing feedback. You need to be able to give constructive criticism in order to help people improve their work.
It’s a lot — and it can be hard for managers to find time for employee growth among all of these other tasks. That’s why, oftentimes, investing in your employees and making them feel seen falls by the wayside.
Misunderstanding Employee Needs
A study found that just under half of its respondents cited ‘failure to listen’ as a manager’s biggest downfall. If we’re not listening to our employees, how can we possibly know what they need from us?
If we look at the research, employees are very clear about what they want: to be invested in, to be listened to, to be appreciated, and to be rewarded. But there’s often an enormous disconnect between what employees want and what managers deliver.
Take recognition, for instance. Praise and recognition are not considered a priority in over 80 percent of organizations, even though employees actively seek recognition for their work and feedback on what to improve.
It saddens me to think about how many employees go about their working life under-appreciated, under-valued, and ultimately ignored in terms of their needs. But this kind of thing happens in more workplaces than you’d care to imagine.
Focusing on Numbers Alone
I’ve noticed that a good portion of managers — especially those new to leadership — tend to gravitate toward one side of management. They either go all-in on the people side of things or focus obsessively on numbers and KPIs. Of course, a manager needs to be able to dance the balancing act between the two, but it’s something that takes practice.
When managers focus solely on numbers and forget about their people, they’re missing an entire chunk of the puzzle. We know through extensive research that numbers are deeply, irrevocably affected by employee morale; without a strong culture, we don’t boost the bottom line. Without employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction takes a dive.
It’s essential for managers to understand the impact of their people — and that means taking a holistic approach to management. But this is one of the biggest pitfalls for managers that all too often causes businesses to crumble.
Lacking Emotional Intelligence
There’s a lack of emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace, which I’ve written about a couple of times previously. What do I mean by that?
It’s an ability to accurately assess situations, perceive emotions in yourself and others, use emotions to make decisions, and manage your own feelings. And it’s essential for effective management.
The problem is that EI bleeds into pretty much every aspect of management — and if you’re lacking in that department, it can be hard to turn it around. Here are some of the instances where EI is essential:
Giving feedback. It’s easy to accidentally hurt feelings or discourage employees when you’re giving feedback; you need emotional intelligence to strike a balance between asking for more and maintaining a sense of psychological safety.
Making risky decisions. EI isn’t just about empathy; it’s also about being able to make hard calls when required and understanding how those decisions will impact the team dynamic.
Regulating stress. It takes emotional intelligence to be able to identify when your team is feeling overwhelmed or burnt out and take steps to address the issue before it spirals out of control. You’re likely to be stressed at the same time, so it’s a balance of self-regulation and empathy.
Here’s the kicker: only about 22 percent of leaders actually have emotional intelligence. Worse still, there aren’t many workplaces offering EI-specific training. It’s easy to imagine where managers fall flat without adequate emotional intelligence.
Having Role Ambiguity
Role ambiguity is one of the biggest problem-causers for managers. Talking to Julie on the podcast made me realize that there’s something management job descriptions often neglect: the responsibility to invest in and develop your employees.
It’s in the best interests of yourself, your team, and your company for your people to be successful. That means actively providing employees with the opportunities and resources they need to grow.
The effects here are twofold:
Your employees feel seen and valued. Nothing says “you’re important” like connecting an employee with mentors, spending money on development programs, and taking an active interest in their career trajectory.
You get a team of highly skilled and motivated people who are ready to take on new challenges and push the company forwards. Fostering a growth mindset gives you an enormous competitive advantage.
But it’s not just about providing resources for growth.
Confusing Promotion Goals with Development Goals
Julie brought my attention to a management issue that honestly blew my mind: the way that managers naturally guide employees toward promotions rather than development.
She explained it like this:
“…it’s a mathematical impossibility. At the end of the day, we can’t give a promotion to everybody who wants development.
And yet — because that’s been the only thing on the menu, and the only way we’ve talked about career development for all these years — we’re creating dissatisfaction for employees who aren’t getting those promotions.”
Most of us have been socialized into the promotion cycle, so it makes sense that we would all subconsciously interchange development with ladder-climbing. But as Julie said, we can’t all get promotions at the same time — so if employees consider progress synonymous with promotion, they’ll inevitably feel let down and demotivated.
So, what’s the answer? How can managers really be helpful to our employees?
Shift the Focus
My key takeaway from the chat with Julie is that managers and organizations need to shift their focus.
Instead of simply pushing employees to climb the promotion ladder, we should be actively asking employees what they want their development to look like. What specific skills do they want to gain? Which areas do they want to specialize in or explore? What experience do they want to gain?
We can refer to this kind of thinking as ‘alternative development’ — it’s certainly not the traditional ladder-climb, but it offers employees more options to progress in their careers. It says, “I care about your wants as well as the success of our company.”
For some employees, moving up the ranks will be a high-priority goal, and that’s normal. But the idea of alternative development is to make sure employees have a much broader view of their professional growth; it’s not just about making more money or getting a new title (even if those are part of your aspirations!)
How To Shift the Focus
You can start fostering this different mindset from the moment new hires are onboarded. Cover the promotion trajectory, of course — but spend a portion of your onboarding time talking about the different paths they can take to get where they want to be, whether it be through courses, workshops, projects, or even mentorship.
On a very practical level, you need to be able to connect employee development goals with the needs of the company. If you can see a path forward for your employee’s development that also serves the needs of your business, it’s easy to make an impactful case for investment in their growth.
For example: if there’s an employee who shows real promise and interest in the area of marketing, and you know there’s a gap in your current social media efforts, give them the opportunity to pitch an idea. If it’s good, invest in training and resources to help them specialize in that area — and everyone wins.
They don’t gain a promotion from that challenge, but they gain invaluable experience that moves them toward their interests and goals. The message you’re sending is clear: we value your development, not just your title.
You’ll find plenty more resources and an entire framework for alternative development in Julie’s book, Promotions Are So Yesterday. I highly recommend it!
Without solid management, there can be no effective employees — and as we’ve talked about, there are plenty of pitfalls we can slip into.
One of the biggest barriers to effective management is confusing development with promotion; I’m realizing just how damaging it can be and how it holds employees back from feeling true satisfaction at work.
The key to really helping your employees? A focus on development, and a desire to make sure everyone in the team is progressing towards their goals — regardless of whether they’re traditional or non-traditional. Encourage them to think outside the box, and create unique opportunities that allow them to explore their own interests.
Better yet, find ways to connect their interests with the needs of your business and you’ll create a highly efficient system of growth.
It’s time to start thinking differently about employee development — and that starts with managers who are committed to helping their people grow and succeed.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out the full interview with Julie Winkle Giulioni over on my YouTube channel.
If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.
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