Crisis situations bring out true resilience and innovation, and there are critical approaches that the best managers take that allow them to be both a change agent and a supportive leader for their teams.
In a time where organizations must balance the challenges of a pandemic, a remote workforce, and organizational productivity, change has been a constant for leaders. They have been forced to adapt their approaches and learn new skills, all while serving as change agents and supportive, innovative team leaders. Amidst all of the adaptations that leaders make in crisis situations, however, some things remain steadfast – the core actions and behaviors that separate good managers from great ones.
Below are five critical habits that all successful managers are mindful of:
1. They communicate effectively.
To be an effective communicator, you need to understand your audience and recognize that one size does not fit all – especially in a world where many teams are now working remotely. Successful managers are flexible in their communications to ensure their message is heard and interpreted appropriately. For example, when communicating with upper leadership, it is critical to ensure the messaging is high-level, all-inclusive, and strategic. On the other hand, when communicating with teams regarding task execution, they may have to provide more details and discuss tactical approaches. With this type of adaptable communication, everyone is more likely to walk away from the conversation with a clear understanding of what was communicated and next steps. A great way for managers to check for this understanding is to ask the other person to summarize the conversation and action steps.
Communicating effectively begins with communicating honestly and openly. When managers communicate information openly and honestly to their team members, the approach is likely to be reciprocated. As a result, managers are more likely to hear about the challenges that their team members are facing, mistakes which may have been made, and feedback which can aid managers in their personal development.
Another critical component of effective communication at a managerial level is allowing oneself to be vulnerable. Managers have to feel comfortable admitting when they need help and when they don’t know or understand something.
2. They develop and train their teams.
It is necessary to understand the strengths, motivators, and areas of development for each team member. This can often be accomplished through asking questions like, “What motivates you?” and “How can I support your development?” Asking open-ended questions allows managers to test those assumptions. By identifying the individual needs and motivators of each team member, managers can effectively develop individualized action plans to support team growth.
Further, by discovering each team member’s style, managers can look for similarities, differences, and trends that are presented throughout the team. They may find gaps that allow some team members to stretch, commonalities that allow for team members to build stronger relationships, and differences to celebrate as it will allow them to learn from one another.
Every team member has their own unique motivations and interests, so it’s important to set up regular touch-bases with team members and remain mindful that such motivations and interests may evolve over time (i.e., as life circumstances change and one grows in their role).
Managers should also look across the collective performance of the group and consider – what is the team doing really well? How can you continue to leverage those strengths? What are the team’s greatest opportunities for development? Who might they be able to partner with, or what developmental resources might you be able to provide to help them grow in these areas?
3. They manage their time and delegate.
With many companies restructuring and workloads increasing, time is a resource which is increasingly invaluable. In order to ensure that managers can allot the appropriate time and level of support to their team members, it is critical to delegate tasks appropriately (where possible). Managers also shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help outside the team to leverage fresh, new insights and foster opportunities to work cross-collaboratively.
It is often said, you cannot manage time, you can only manage your response to it. It is important for managers to consider how their own leadership style is impacting their response time. For example, have you ever heard or thought, “I will just do it myself because I know it will be done right and on time?" Though it can often be challenging for managers to give up control, doing so allows others to grow, develop, and feel empowered. Delegating teaches new skills, expands scope of responsibility, builds learning agility, provides stretch goals, and broads bench strength. Delegation is a cycle: mangers must prepare (analyzing the task), assign (assessing each team member’s skill, ability, and motivation) and support (acknowledging and supporting positive results). It’s important to ensure that employees are a part of the conversation from the start so all concerns are addressed and a manager’s involvement has been discussed and agreed upon.
4. They cultivate a positive and inclusive team culture.
While this has always been important, the events of this past year have brought to light the fact that we need to make changes if things are going to get better. There are key behaviors to consider when it comes to someone’s ability to work fairly and respectfully with others. These include a desire to build relationships, being open to ideas that differ from our own, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
Quite often, the team may be looking at the manager to model the behaviors that are expected of them. Therefore, it’s important to ensure managers stay engaged and supportive of the changes that need to be made to foster a positive and inclusive environment. If this is a struggle, identifying an accountability partner or peer coach can help managers get valuable feedback.
5. They manage team performance.
It is important for managers to understand the stage their team is in at any given time. If the team is new and just beginning to get to know and trust each other, a clear direction and purpose should be identified. Furthermore, it is critical to involve team members in clarifying roles and responsibilities, as well as develop rules of engagement. When the team is exploring differences in opinions and ideas as they get to understand how they will work together, members may respond differently in the face of conflict. Managers should stay mindful of behaviors that might indicate disengagement or if someone is dominating the interactions. Members need to be able to appreciate differences in work styles and look for opportunities to leverage different strengths. Looking for ways for team members to collaborate, while ensuring that skills, knowledge, and experience are being fully utilized, will result in greater trust within teams. Trust is necessary for a team to be effective, and being vulnerable in asking for and accepting help will create tighter team bonds.
Team effectiveness workshops are a great opportunity for team members to identify similarities and differences as well as learn ways to create actionable next steps. Continue to celebrate the differences as diversity of personalities on a team is vital to ensure the team does not develop groupthink. Positive, healthy conflict in teams is necessary for a team to continue to perform effectively. This often includes disagreements and debates that are handled respectfully. Managers should be there to encourage communication and accountability, as well as provide feedback and celebrate achievements.
This blog was written in collaboration with Lindsay K. Beers, M.Sc. Lindsay works within the Talent Solutions group at PSI Services. She specializes in the implementation of assessments, programs, and initiatives which identify, retain, develop, and align leadership talent. Her expertise in leadership, organizational development, and change management provide her with a unique lens to help leaders, and the organizations they operate within, to maximize their effectiveness.