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Published on December 4, 2019

How to Master Your Management Skills and Build a Strong Team

How to Master Your Management Skills and Build a Strong Team

Whether you work as a manager or not, you need strong management skills. Editors work with writers every day. Developers and designers have interns to lead. Even stay-at-home parents have children to raise and inspire .

In each of those roles, management means more than getting the work done. I’ve surrounded myself with some of the top sales speakers in the world and a message I always hear is that great managers focus on taking care of their people. They delegate strategically and set the example for how the team should interact.

What makes a great manager? Either in school or through practice, managers must learn a series of principles and management skills.

The Principles of Management

Leaders may have different styles, but their management skills rely on the same foundation. In the early 20th century, French engineer Henri Fayol laid out 14 principles in his book General and Industrial Management that are still taught today:

1. Division of Work

On every team, members have different abilities. It takes real management skills to divide work in a way that maximizes workers’ strengths while shoring up their weaknesses.

2. Authority and Responsibility

Every member of a team is responsible to some degree for its success. To hold everyone accountable to his or her responsibilities, management must have the authority to order, reward, and reprimand as necessary.

3. Discipline

Disciplined team members obey orders when they can and respectfully explain themselves when they can’t. Managers with discipline actively grow their management skills and hold their teams to account. Without discipline, teams fall apart.

4. Unity of Command

To avoid confusion, team members must take orders from and answer to one person. When multiple people are in charge, conflicting commands are inevitable.

5. Unity of Direction

To be a team, all members must be rowing in the same direction. Managers need to set clear objectives and develop a singular action plan.

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6. Subordination of Individual Needs

Teams fail when members serve their own interests. Workers and managers alike must put the needs of the group above their own, including the individual interests of the manager.

7. Remuneration

Managers must recognize workers for the contributions they make. Not all remuneration is monetary. In addition to financial compensation, managers can use compliments, titles, and privileges to make employees feel appreciated.

8. Centralization

On small teams, all decisions may be made by a single person. But on larger ones, executives may craft the high-level vision while leaving the implementation details to lower and middle managers.

9. Scalar Chain

Teams need structure. Especially if decision-making is decentralized, a chain of command should exist from the c-suite on down. Members must bring concerns directly to the link above them.

10. Order

Chaos is the enemy of management. Managers must provide order across multiple axes: social order, an orderly work environment, and orderly processes for completing work.

11. Equity

Teams don’t survive when their members don’t treat one another fairly. Managers must be kind and avoid playing favorites. Workers must be respectful of one another and their manager, even when the work is difficult.

12. Team Stability

Too much turnover compromises the competency and efficiency of the team. Managers must minimize disruptions by putting the right people in the right roles.

13. Initiative

Every member of a team has to be involved and interested in order for the group to do its best work. Managers must encourage employee initiatives, even when those new ideas conflict with existing ways of doing things.

14. Esprit de Corps

Roughly translated to “team spirit,” espirit de corps describes the importance of morale to a high-functioning team. By cultivating buy-in and unity among workers, managers create trust and culture.

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Managers don’t spend their days memorizing those principles, of course. What they do is build management skills, through experience as well as through continuing education, that help them put Fayol’s 14 principles into practice.

The Core Management Skills

Ask ten different managers what the most important management skills are, and you’ll get ten different responses. But you can bet the following ones will be popular answers:

Problem Solving

Managers solve problems that executives don’t want to deal with and everyday employees aren’t equipped to deal with. Those problems typically fall into one of three buckets: people, product, or process problems.

People problems concern team dynamics. When two workers on a team can’t seem to get along, it takes strong management skills to sort things out. Although executives typically handle high-level product strategy, they leave product problems like bugs and interface updates to managers of technical teams.

Process problems are the most common issues managers deal with. Customer complaints that fall through the cracks, copy mistakes that wind up in published content, and leaky sales pipelines mostly fall to managers.

Although every manager has his or her own preferred problem-solving techniques, there are a few common ones:

  • Ask “why?” What caused the problem in the first place? If you couldn’t sleep last night, the reason might be that you drank too much coffee. The solution, then, may be to cut yourself off at noon.
  • Brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Silly or simplistic answers are sometimes the best ones. Challenge yourself to spend five minutes ideating answers to a complex problem, refraining from judgment until after your timer goes off.
  • Change your phrasing. The way you discuss a problem influences how your team sees it. Use phrases like “What if,” or “Imagine” to convey possibility. Avoid terms like “impossible” or “too difficult.”

Listening

The best leaders are listeners. Although someone has to give the orders, those with real management skills listen to others’ ideas and concerns before they make a decision. When that choice does not line up with their workers’ suggestions, effective managers explain why.

Just as importantly, managers must listen to those above them. In a hierarchy, each link must carry out the orders of the person they report to. To lead their own teams effectively, managers need to understand the goals and wider plans of company executives.

Great managers also soak up ideas from people who aren’t on their team. Teams — even diverse, large ones — are bubbles. Ryan Hawk, who operates a podcast called the The Learning Leader Show, maintains a database of career and life advice that I really like that’s helped me become a better listener.

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In a journal or a private document, keep a running list of the best ideas associated with each group. Record insights and suggestions for improvement from your workers. Take notes on executive conversations about improving your management skills. Jot down bits of wisdom that motivate or inspire you, regardless of who said them.

Communication

Listening is only half the picture; managers must communicate openly and regularly up and down the chain of command.

When managers face a challenge that surpasses their management skills, they speak up to their superiors. When a team member keeps making the same mistake, they say something rather than let it slide. When a customer emails or asks to speak with them directly, they respond in a timely and professional manner.

Managers need to be masters of oral and written communication. Becoming a better verbal communicator is really a matter of three things:

  • Managing non-verbal cues. Making eye contact is a sign of respect and a request for the listener’s attention. Smiling makes people want to hear what you have to say. Fidgeting, on the other hand, indicates disinterest or a lack of confidence.
  • Being direct. Avoid going off on tangents or beating around the bush. Making your point in as few words as possible creates clarity and demonstrates respect for others’ time.
  • Using appropriate vocabulary. Be precise in your phrasing. Don’t call a catastrophe a mistake. Don’t use a phrase like “myocardial infarction” when “heart attack” will do.

The last two techniques also apply to written communication. To build your writing and management skills, read and write regularly. Emulate your favorite authors; chances are, they use the conversational-yet-professional style that you aim for in your own emails and memos.

Delegation

The whole reason managers are given teams to lead is so that they can accomplish more than they’d be able to as individuals. That’s why valuing time[1] and a focus on delegation is among the most important management skills.

After you’ve decided which tasks to delegate — which should be any that your team members can do better than you — determine the recipient. The delegatee’s technical skills should align with the task, but so should their temperament and soft skills.

Then, trust your team. As long as you’ve provided clear instructions and a deadline, you shouldn’t need to check in before the project is due. Publicly compliment and reward team members once the work is done.

Learn more about how to delegate effectively in this guide: How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

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Motivation

Of all the key management skills, motivation may be the most difficult to learn but also the most important one: 9 Reasons Why Motivation Matters in Leadership

How do you inspire someone to do what might be tedious work day in and day out?

For better or worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. People are motivated by different things. Raises and bonuses might light a fire under one person, while more paid time off might be the best reward for someone else.

Those with the best management skills use carrots liberally and sticks sparingly. Unless rewards aren’t working to change someone’s behavior, don’t punish them. Remember that if you aren’t ready to fire them, you have to maintain a positive working relationship.

Performance improvement plans are a good intermediary step. If the problem isn’t corrected after three or so months, then perhaps a demotion or pay cut should be on the table.

Final Thoughts

Strong teams don’t build themselves. Only leaders who understand both the principles and key management skills can turn a handful of employees into a well-oiled machine. Learn them, and you’ll have made more of a difference than any new marketing strategy or product feature every could.

More About Team Management

Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Calendar: The Value of Time

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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