5 managerial skills for becoming a great boss
5 managerial skills for becoming a great boss

5 Managerial Skills for becoming a Great Boss

Displaying good management skills, will not only help motivate your team, it will lead to great career success for you personally.

“Bob Selden was a fantastic first manager. He has taught me the survival skills I needed to manage a business, but more importantly to successfully manage other people. Bob is an amazing diplomat that treats his staff and colleagues with respect and a manner that makes you want to give 200% to your job. I loved working with Bob and am thankful for the experience - it really was one that no MBA program could teach. Thanks Bob.” – Stephanie, one of our first team members at Focus Learning Systems.

You’ll read a lot about things such as “The 6, 7 or even the 20 Best Management Skills” - and there’s plenty of good advice in many of these articles and blogs - but really there are only five things you need to know, and more importantly, apply - the 5 managerial skills for becoming a great boss. These are the five that I used when managing people such as Stephanie and many others over a quarter of a century – and across different countries and cultures. So, read on and start applying!

  1. Clearly set your expectations with your team

Now, I’m not talking about the standard Performance Expectations, KPI’s, Targets or Measures – these are a given and you’ll discuss these and probably set goals with your people. What I’m talking about are the unwritten ways in which we all judge one another – generally based on past experiences of either good or bad managers or employees. Another way of describing these is that they are our ‘inbuilt biases’ that we’ve developed over the years. For example, you may be a very neat and tidy person, so your work and workspace are always well organised. Some of your team may be the complete opposite and so we start to judge their performance, not on how effective they are, but on how tidy they keep their work. Although not good management, this wouldn’t be so bad if our team members knew what our biases are – so tell them!

One way of finding out what these personal biases are, is to think back to the best bosses (or teachers) you’ve had, or perhaps the workmates you’ve enjoyed working with the most. Now, write down three or four things that they did that helped make you feel so good.  Note; these are their behaviours, not their personality, their cultural background nor perhaps how they looked.  

  1. Encourage dissenting voices

What? I hear you thinking, why would I want to do that, surely that would be unproductive? Well, no, it is in fact the very opposite – productive. Managers who only want “Yes” people or who do not consult widely (often because they do not want to hear opposing views), find this out to their peril.

For example, Kevin Rudd who was Prime Minister of Australia for two and a half years from 2007, although highly intelligent, was by many accounts a control freak, unable to delegate and bogged down in detail.

As one source noted, “The biggest thing he did wrong was that he did not consult widely; he wasn’t taking decisions to cabinet and, more broadly, he didn’t welcome dissenting opinion. That’s a classic management mistake, not to seek broad input. The way you manage risk is to try and draw out scenarios that you might not have thought of and you do that through consultation."

  1. Find out what outside interests your people may have

Well, that may be interesting, but how will it help me better manage?  We all have ‘discretionary’ time that we use to do what we really enjoy. These are the things that motivate us. And if you can find out what everyone’s interests are, there may be a possibility for building those sorts of things into their job or role. Even if not, keep an eye out for projects or opportunities that will enable your people to really do the things they love – at work!

For example, one of my team was keen on teaching and coaching others – he had a number of coaching roles with children’s sports teams. So, I gave him the role of running regular, short training sessions for the team on current topics that would be of use to the team. He also became the unofficial team coach when someone had a skill or knowledge area that needed developing.

  1. Check in regularly to see how each team member is doing

Notice here, I’ve not used the word “feedback”. Feedback, which started out as a technical term used in electrical engineering to test a system, has over the last few decades become a negative term in business. Remember for a moment the last time someone (maybe your manager), said to you, “Bob, let me give you some feedback”. Of course you immediately knew that this was going to be bad news!

So, I’m using the word “checking-in” to donate that it should be a discussion where you question and listen to your team member to ascertain progress and provide support. Frequency for checking-in will depend on your situation – I would recommend at least monthly.

If you’d like to make it a bit more formal, even as part of your organisation’s performance management system, then here’s a process I use. There are just two questions and both are answered by the manager and the team member independently (generally written out a few days before the discussion):

Please list -

  1. Performance that has been up to or beyond expectations.
  2. Performance that still requires further development.

Notice here that I’ve not used “You” or “Your” and just “Performance”. This enables the team member to be far more objective and even honest about (their) performance as they are talking about their behaviour and not themselves personally.  Behaviours can always be changed or reinforced as appropriate.

  1. Build your network

Rather than managing your team, this one is about managing the relationships you have with your colleagues (both inside and outside your organisation). It’s also about managing the relationship you have with your manager.

This is one of the most overlooked (and often intentionally so) activities a manager needs to undertake to be seen as a success. Notice here, that I’ve used the words “to be seen”.  No matter how good you are at managing your own team, you will only be successful if your colleagues are aware (and even talk about), how well your team is doing.

However, a recent HBR article found that “A majority of the managers we work with say that they find networking insincere or manipulative—at best, an elegant way of using people. Not surprisingly, for every manager who instinctively constructs and maintains a useful network, we see several who struggle to overcome this innate resistance. Yet the alternative to networking is to fail—either in reaching for a leadership position or in succeeding at it.”

Another reason is to build your network, is to develop your professional and managerial expertise. From my own experience, if I were asked, “Bob, what’s the one thing that you’d say has led to your success?”.  My one-word answer, “Networking”.

In summarising … There are many skills and behaviours that managers can develop to become successful, but for me the most important are: the 5 managerial skills for becoming a great boss

  1. Clearly set your (often unspoken) expectations with your team.
  2. Encourage dissenting voices – look to engage with people who have different opinions.
  3. Find out what outside interests your people may have – look for ways they can be used at work.
  4. Check in regularly to see how each team member is doing – make it a two-way conversation.
  5. Build your network – both internally and externally.

Please let me know how these are working for you.


Subscribe now and receive regular updates on managing and leading with learning materials, interesting posts, popular books, giveaways and much more!