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10 Must-Have Life Skills For Great Managers

10 Must-Have Life Skills For Great Managers

Horrible bosses are everywhere on TV and in the movies. If they’re not tyrants who insult, harass, or hurl packages at their staff, they’re cold-hearted cynics who steal ideas and take the credit. Or, they’re bumbling louts forced to buy themselves a “World’s Best Boss” mug.

Sure, these portrayals are farfetched (well, most of them), but they also sprout from grains of truth. We’ve all known managers who drove us to quit our jobs or wish that we could.

But here’s what’s interesting: It’s rarely the experience, education, or technical skills of these bosses we gripe about. We’re far more concerned with their “life skills”.

Take the self-reflection quiz at the end of each section to rate yourself on these 10 must-have life skills for managers. For improvement ideas, download the full workbook.

1. Empower Other People To Lead

Among the most common job complaints is this: I don’t get enough opportunities for development. Ambitious employees embrace the chance to be challenged and become energized at the prospect of demonstrating their versatility and potential. Offering leadership opportunities is a surefire way to develop and keep your best employees. A great manager is always teaching and empowering employees with opportunities to make decisions and develop new skills.

Are you an empowering manager? Take the quiz.

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Empower Other People to Lead

    2. Demonstrate Humility

    Nothing breeds an “us vs. them” mentality faster than a manager who makes employees feel beneath them. When you display humility as a manager, you signal to your team that it’s OK to show weakness and that failure is simply a bump on the path to success. Your employees will in turn feel emboldened to take risks and be resilient in the face of setbacks. A great manager knows that it’s possible to demonstrate confidence and maintain a leadership position without arrogance, ego, entitlement, or pride. They’re able to admit weakness, show a willingness to learn, take responsibility for failure, and credit others for success.

    Are you a humble manager? Take the quiz.

    Demonstrate Humility

      3. Write With Clarity

      Whether you’re leading a small team, large department, or your own company, clear written communication is a must-have skill. Ironically, communication is often dismissed as a “soft skill,” yet employees regularly point to unclear communication as a trait they dislike about upper management. Great managers invest time and thought when crafting written communication to their teams. They write concisely and clearly, keeping their employees’ perspectives in mind, and take care to avoid jargon, complicated words, and long sentences.

      Do you write with clarity? Take the quiz.

      Write With Clarity

        4. Use Positive Body Language

        Our body language communicates much more than the words we speak. As a manager you can inadvertently quash creativity and morale with subtle facial expressions and shifts in body position that convey annoyance or resistance. Negative body language also can make you less likeable. And if your employees don’t like you, they won’t listen to you, trust you, or feel motivated to exceed your expectations. Great managers keep their body language and spoken words in sync and balance a confident physical presence with gestures, smiling, and eye contact to convey empathy and warmth.

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        How positive is your body language? Take the quiz.

        Use Positive Body Language

          5. Be Generous With Praise

          Have you ever worked for a “no news is good news” boss? You know, the type who only calls you into her office if she has bad news or criticism to offer? Don’t be that kind of manager! If your employees don’t feel appreciated, they’ll stop caring about their job. Wouldn’t you rather have employees who love showing you their work, sharing creative ideas, and including you in problem-solving discussions? Being generous with authentic praise is a core trait of a great manager. They recognize effort and achievement privately and publicly, and lay the groundwork for praise by setting both achievable and stretch goals.

          Are you generous with praise? Take the quiz.

          Be Generous With Praise

            6. Be Thoughtful With Criticism

            No one enjoys receiving criticism, but when delivered effectively, critical feedback is essential for developing skills and overcoming weaknesses. Unfortunately, most managers aren’t great at giving feedback; either they’re too harsh and direct or too soft and unclear. The good news: giving effective feedback is a skill that can be learned and practiced. Great managers always keep their emotions in check and their facts straight when delivering criticism, and keep the recipient’s growth and development at heart.

            Do you give criticism thoughtfully? Take the quiz.

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            Be Thoughtful With Criticism

              7. Respect Other People’s Time

              If you’re managing a team, a department, or an entire company, you’re busy — everyone gets it. But being chronically late to meetings, appointments, and events isn’t a symptom of being busy or important; it’s a sign of disrespect for others and a lack of discipline for yourself. When you no-show, cancel at the last minute, or arrive late, you disrupt the productivity of your team and send the message: I am more important than you, and my time is more valuable.  Great managers communicate integrity and earn respect and trust by being punctual, attentive, and ending meetings on time.

              Are you respectful of other people’s time? Take the quiz.

              Respect Other People's Time

                8. Like and Be Liked

                Research shows we like people who like us — who ask us questions and pay us compliments, who possess similar interests, backgrounds, and attitudes. As a manager, you can use this fact to your advantage: By being more likable, in an authentic way, you can increase employee loyalty and engagement. Most important, your employees will open up to you in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. For instance, compared to employees who feel neutral about your personality, those who adore you might be more willing to trust you with their creative ideas, share their concerns, or pull a longer shift when you most need their help.

                Are you a likable manager? Take the quiz.

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                Like and Be Liked

                  9. Show Up To Be Nowhere Else

                  You know the feeling: You’re talking to someone with great enthusiasm, but you’re not getting their full attention. You can hear a keyboard clacking or papers rustling, or you notice them stealing glances at their phone. You feel deflated. Why bother talking to someone whose mind is elsewhere? And if that person is your manager — whose respect you covet — it can feel even worse. Great managers “show up to be nowhere else”; they use active listening skills, stay engaged in the conversation, and are attentive to details.

                  Are you a present, engaged manager? Take the quiz.

                  Show Up To Be Nowhere Else

                    10. Communicate High Expectations

                    We’re all affected by what our mentors, teachers, and managers expect of us. When they convey higher expectations of us than we have for ourselves, we tend to believe we can succeed — and therefore often do. As a manager, you can put this concept to good use. Communicate high expectations to your employees via verbal and nonverbal cues and you’ll boost their self-esteem and performance, setting the stage for a more engaged, productive workforce. It’s easy to do with employees who already exceed expectations; the greater challenge is conveying high expectations to everyone else. Great managers encourage all their employees, not just those who consistently outperform.

                    Do you communicate high expectations? Take the quiz.

                    Communicate High Expectations

                      10 Must-Have Life Skills for Great Managers

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                        Last Updated on June 2, 2020

                        How to Write an Impressive Cover Letter (With Examples)

                        How to Write an Impressive Cover Letter (With Examples)

                        Think of your cover letter for a job application as an in-person introduction. Your resume outlines the facts—where you worked and for how long, along with your major accomplishments. But your cover letter also shows off your personality.

                        Your cover letter should outline the case for why you deserve the job without being “salesy.” How do you do that? Follow these 12 important guidelines.

                        1. There Is No Cookie-Cutter Cover Letter for a Job

                        Targeting your resume to a particular job may mean changing up your “Objective” section a bit or adding to your “Executive Summary” section. Cover letters, though, really need to focus on the particular person you’re writing to, the particular job, and the particular company. It needs to prove, with an economy of words, that your job experience fits the requirements of the position for which you’re applying.

                        Your letter should show that you have amassed the skills you need to succeed in that workplace. And, your cover letter should clinch your prospects by making the case that you are very excited about working at that particular company.

                        2. Always Opt-in to the Optional Cover Letter

                        Some job postings will give applicants the option of opting out of providing a cover letter for a job[1]. Don’t take the bait! Use the opportunity to further sell yourself in a personalized, well-crafted cover letter that creatively shares who you are and why your skills and personality align with the position and the company. Think of your cover letter for a job as an opportunity to describe your value proposition.

                        3. A Reference Goes a Long Way

                        Did someone recommend you for the job? Put that in the subject line of your cover letter if possible. If an online listing dictates what your subject line must be, cite the personal recommendation in the first sentence of your letter:

                        Dear Ms. Sanders,

                        Steve Smith recommended me for your Assistant Planner position. I worked with Steve at the XYZ company for four years as his assistant until he moved on, and I feel as though I learned from the best.  His high praise for you is the primary reason I am applying for this position, as I consider him an excellent judge of character. 

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                        You may want to bolster Steve’s recommendation with a short anecdote about working with Steve. Don’t be shy. Steve’s high opinion of you will likely mean that your resume gets a serious look.

                        4. Outline the Key Points You Want to Make

                        Company by company, your cover letter for a job application needs to be specific and bulletproof. Unless you have a great deal of practice in writing cover letters, it’s hard to just bang them out. So don’t even try. Instead, start with a list of points you intend to make. Generally, these would be a “grabby” introduction, a story or two about a particular accomplishment that is relevant to the job to which you are applying, a reason why you are the ideal candidate for the position, and a conclusion with a suggested next step.

                        1. Intro – Have been familiar with the company since my father worked there in the 1980s.
                        2. College Major – Majored in industrial engineering so I could get a job at CYY Building, Inc.
                        3. Captain of Soccer Team – Prepared me to solve problems, promote morale, and coach a team.
                        4. Ask for Informational Interview – 15 minutes to meet in person and learn more about opportunities.
                        5. Compelling Close – Ask Hiring Manager to call me. Say I will call her in a week if I don’t hear from her first.

                        5. Moderating the Tone of Your Cover Letter

                        Some companies are buttoned-up. The workers wear three-piece suits to the office each day plus loafers. Other companies are more casual. The employees wear shorts in the summertime and skateboard through the hallways. In an in-person interview, you would never wear shorts to a company whose employees are sporting three-piece suits.

                        Similarly, your cover letter needs to strike the right note. The letter you write to a start-up should sound markedly different than the letter you would write to a white-shoe law firm.

                        For example, even using something as informal as “Greetings” for the salutation may not be appropriate at a more formal firm. And definitely don’t use the default “To Whom It May Concern.” Instead, try to find the name of the hiring manager with an online search. If that’s not possible, you will want to begin with “Dear XYZ Hiring Manager.” The tone of your cover letter for a job starts at the very beginning.

                        6. Create an Attention-Grabbing Opening Line

                        Think of going to hear a presentation by a motivational speaker, only to have her open with, “I’m here today to present (fill in with title of the presentation).” What a let down! What if instead, she started with, “I just ran a half marathon. Now doesn’t that sound better than if I told you, ‘I tried to run a marathon but quit half-way through?’” See the difference? You want to hear more.

                        Craft the first line of your cover letter with the utmost care. It doesn’t need to be clever, but it needs to show your personality and your fit for the position.

                        Dear Mr. Stevens,

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                        I am committed to making the customer service experience better for people like my grandmother. At 87 years old, my Gram is lost in the digital world and reliant on customer service representatives she can reach by telephone to answer her questions and solve her problems. She regularly shares stories of frustrating dead-ends she experiences with people wanting her to “go online and make your selection.”  Yet, whenever she reaches someone willing to take the extra time to resolve her issue, she sings the company’s praises to everyone she knows. Based on Gram’s frustrations, I want to be that person who won’t give up or pass the buck with bewildered customers.  

                        With a strong, anecdotal opening such as this, you show purpose and passion behind your application to be a customer service representative.

                        7. Recognize the Value of Cover Letter Real Estate

                        Spare writing is key in the cover letter for a job. It is always best if your letter doesn’t exceed a page. Those reviewing applications appreciate a letter that is terse, yet provides useful information to evaluate an applicant. This means you have five to six paragraphs in which to work.

                        Repeating anything from your resume is a waste of real estate. Think in terms of describing why you are applying for the position and why you are the best candidate.

                        To best show your personality, avoid stale phrases such as, “I believe my experience would be a good fit in your organization.” Add punch to your statements that show off your accomplishments and your attitude.

                        I thrive in start-up environments where I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and to make changes on the fly. In one such instance, I uncovered better results from a pilot project and in under 30 minutes had updated the CEO’s presentation in time for his meeting with a venture capitalist.

                        8. Getting Creative

                        On the surface, a requirement is a requirement. Many online ads specify the number of years, and you might think they are ironclad. But if you count the number of years you amassed a particular skill at the job and add any volunteer work where you also used that skill, you might surpass the requirement.

                        Say that you are applying for a position in fund development. If your career experience in putting on charity fundraisers falls a little short, it’s certainly appropriate to add in time spent organizing fundraising events as a volunteer—as long as you indicate it as such in your cover letter for the job.

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                        I recently passed my two and a half year mark of employment as a fund development associate with Notable Events. Concurrently, I oversaw all aspects of two annual fundraising galas as a volunteer board member of Reach for the Stars Foundation, offering scholarships to first-generation college-bound students. These involved finding sponsors for more than 70 silent auction items, renting event space, working with caterers, recruiting volunteers and MC-ing both events, which each drew more than 200 attendees and, together, raised more than $250,000. I believe this intensive hands-on experience helps supplement my years of employment.

                        Showcasing your community ethos through volunteering could make up for the deficit in actual on-the-job experience.

                        9. Making the Case that You Fit

                        How will you fit in at the company? With some research, you can easily figure out the corporate culture of an organization. Many companies share their core values in job recruitment ads. But even if you can’t discern a company’s mission or beliefs from its advertising, you can learn it from articles you read about the company.

                        Is it employer-centric or employee-centric? Is the culture more traditional or more fun? And what are you looking for? When you find a company where your needs align with theirs, that’s an indication that you would fit in well. Take care to make sure that your cover letter reflects how you fit.

                        If you are a recent military veteran[2], consider which civilian positions lend themselves to the regimented culture of which you’ve become accustomed. For example, your occupational specialty while in the military could dovetail well with a company’s job requirements—and you have the added benefit of discipline, following instructions, and teamwork that you can apply to any future position.

                        10. Always Ask for What You’re Worth

                        If the employer asks applicants to share their salary requirements in the cover letter for a job, disregard what you made in your former position and look into the salary ranges[3] of the advertised position. You will want to adjust up or down within the salary range depending on your prior experience in the industry or in a similar role.

                        The key is to not undercut yourself by asking below the minimum amount, or to overinflate your worth by asking for an amount higher than the maximum pay in the salary range.

                        11. Show Your Cover Letter to Three People Whose Opinion You Trust

                        Once your letter is out in the world, it’s too late to tweak it for that particular job. You will dramatically improve your chances of having your cover letter “land” correctly if you’re proactive. Find a few people in the field, and ask them if you can show them your cover letter before you send it out.

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                        If you are starting out and don’t know anyone in the field, you may want to consider paying for a professional career consultant or coach to review your cover letter and resume. Remember that the care you demonstrate in your cover letter is that employer’s first impression of you.

                        12. End With Enthusiasm

                        You want to stay upbeat all the way to the end of the letter. Let the reviewer know that you appreciate the opportunity to apply and that you look forward to hearing from (or having a chance to meet with) them in person.

                        It would be an honor to be part of your team, and I hope to have an opportunity to discuss this role and how I could contribute to it in person.

                        This acknowledges that the organization gets to make the next move, but that you anticipate it will be in your favor.

                        Sign off formally (“Sincerely” or “Best regards”) or informally (“Best” or “Thank you”) depending on the tone of the letter. Also, be sure to include your email address and phone number under your name. This ensures that, should the reviewer wish to contact you, the contact information is easily accessible.

                        Final Thoughts

                        The best cover letters for a job are lively, authentic, and provide a memorable result, anecdote or example of your approach to work. By tying your approach to the requirements of the job description and revealing your personality as a fit for the organization, you will give yourself a winning chance for making the cut and landing that coveted job interview.

                        More Tips on Writing a Great Cover Letter

                        Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

                        Reference

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