6 Steps to Thriving at Work: Step 2

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Be a Better Manager

Think back over the jobs you’ve held in the past. Which ones stand out as the best, most challenging, and rewarding? Which ones were miserable? In retrospect, there’s probably one constant that separated the good jobs from those that were horrendous: your boss.

A good boss can inspire you to great achievement, while a bad boss can make your professional life difficult and your personal life miserable.

The qualities most often associated with good managers include fairness, compassion, supportiveness, consistency, and the ability to inspire workers to deliver their best. And while you might think these are innate qualities, they aren’t; these are skills that, with effort, anyone can cultivate, regardless of their natural temperament or experience.

Trust Your Staff

Lead By Example

Ask Questions

Be Consistent–But Be Flexible

Trust Your Staff

Trust is a two-way street; to earn your employees’ trust, you must demonstrate your confidence in them, and that means learning to delegate effectively.

How trusted will your employees feel if you’re overwhelmed by work while they’re playing computer solitaire? Though some workers enjoy down time on the job, most workers want to be challenged.

By giving your employees assignments that require them to stretch themselves, your group will accomplish more in a shorter period of time, you’ll have motivated workers who are acquiring new skills, and you’ll balance your workload.

Start by delegating the smaller projects on your list and clearly delineate what the end product should be and when you expect to it to be completed. Ask for frequent updates, but refrain from telling your employees how to do their jobs. Leave room for different styles and approaches, as long as the deliverable meets the requirements you laid out. And after the task has been completed, review the process to congratulate your workers or to evaluate how both you and they might work more effectively going forward.

Lead By Example

As a manager, your every move, from the way you dress to how you conduct yourself at company parties, will be scrutinized-and imitated-by your employees. After all, you’re what many lower level employees aspire to be, at least in terms of position and pay.

Don’t be surprised if your formerly prompt workers start arriving late to weekly staff meetings, if you have trouble making it there on time. And if you send memos containing grammatical and spelling errors, expect the same of your employees.

The reverse, however, holds true as well. If you expect superior work quality and professionalism from your staff, the surest way to guarantee it is to demonstrate it yourself.

By the same token, if your workers are performing below expectations, take a long, hard look at yourself and see where you might be creating a poor role model. It’s difficult to criticize your staff when you’re responsible for setting the example that they will follow.

Ask Questions

Want to know what’s on your employees’ minds? Want to know how you can become a better manager? Want to know what’s keeping your staff from meeting their quarterly objectives? The answer is simple: Ask.

Before you do, remember these caveats:

Don’t punish honesty. If an employee says that you discourage your staff by using cutting remarks and sarcasm, don’t hold it against him or her. You should be grateful for their honesty, even if it’s difficult to accept.

Listen to the answers. There’s no sense in asking for input if you become defensive or cut the speaker off.

Make feedback a regular part of your interactions. Constructive feedback is most valuable if it’s received when you can still do something about the situation. By incorporating feedback into your regular interactions with your staff, you’ll be in a position to react to bad news before it’s too late.

Be Consistent-But Be Flexible

Behavioral scientists have shown that the quickest way to make a lab rat (or any living animal) crazy is to keep changing the rules. The same thing goes for your staff. If you’re constantly shifting priorities and expectations, it won’t be long before you’ve created an atmosphere of insecurity, distrust, and confusion.

Imagine that you’re the captain of a ship. Every time you change course abruptly, you’re throwing everyone from one side of the cabin to the other. The end result? A seasick, mutinous crew. If you need to adjust the course of your vessel, the best approach is to do it gradually, with plenty of forewarning.

You also need to be consistent in your treatment of workers. If one person is censured for coming in late three times, everyone should be held to the same standard. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward good performances or criticize poor behavior; it means that your standards need to be applied equally to everyone, all the time. It’s okay to be tough, as long as you’re balanced and fair.