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A Manager’s Quick Reference Guide

By Daniel Bobinski

People often get promoted into supervisory positions and receive very little practical training to be effective in the role. That was a huge motivator for my writing “Creating Passion-Driven Teams.” Identify someone who thinks he or she has “arrived” and has no need to learn more, and I’ll point out someone who’s on the road to stagnation. 

What follows might be a review for some, but if you pick up even one golden nugget for being a better supervisor or manager, you will be more effective in the work that you do. 

  1. Actively Listen. Employees want to be heard and understood. This can’t be a weekly activity; it has to be a daily practice. Look people in the eye when they talk to you. In addition to absorbing the words, go past the words to ascertain what people are thinking or feeling about what they’re telling you. Then, based on what you perceive, demonstrate you were truly listening. An effective way to do this is to say something like, “It sounds like you are pretty upset about this,” or, “If I understand you accurately, you’d like to fix the problem you described by doing ‘X,’ is that correct?” 

The idea is to help people feel heard, and that starts with active listening. After that, you must prove you understood. Just saying you understand doesn’t mean you do. People want to feel noticed, needed and nurtured. A great foundation for that is to truly listen to them. 

Side benefit: People who feel heard and understood often invest more of themselves in their work, thus making the workplace more productive and effective. And yes, profitable. 

  1. Focus on the team’s purpose. Managers and leaders may spend time clarifying the overarching purpose and mission of the team, but if people on the team can’t explain it, then frankly, the vision and mission are practically worthless. 

Once I walked into a new client’s building of 500 employees and started talking with various managers. To each one I asked if they could tell me the company’s vision and mission. None of those who made an attempt gave the same answer. Most just laughed and said, “I don’t know.”  

Picture one of those long boats with eight-member “crew” teams on a river. When everyone is rowing in the same direction and with synchronized rhythm, their boat speeds downstream. But if each person is doing his or her own thing, that boat is pretty much floundering. It’s the same thing with any organization. 

Starting point: If you, as the supervisor or manager, cannot articulate your team’s purpose, there’s no time like the present to start. Set aside some time and put together a small team of diverse personalities from different facets of your team and devote yourselves to answering two questions: 

Where do we want to see our team (department/company/etc.) in the next three years? 

What will your team need to do to get there?

Then, after you have solid answers, make those topics part of your water-cooler conversation. By that I mean don’t talk about them only at formal meetings, but weave the vision and mission into everyday chats. 

  1. Replace “why” questions with “what” and “how” questions. One of the most common mistakes many managers make is asking questions such as, “Why did you do that?” This question is often asked when something has gone awry, and oftentimes the manager is simply trying to troubleshoot. 

The problem? “Why” questions often put people on the defensive. To use a “Star Trek” analogy, it’s like your employees anticipate a hostile attack and they put their shields up. When people get asked why, the unspoken inference is that it’s a question asking about the past, and the past cannot be changed. Therefore, no matter what the employee says, it’s going to be a wrong answer. 

The other problem? “Why” is easy to ask. It’s quick. It’s efficient. It’s one syllable! Therefore, supervisors and managers like to use it. 

Better: If the purpose of the question is to determine why something was done, it’s better to frame the question with a few more words and also with genuine curiosity in one’s voice. 

Old way: Why did you do that? 

New way: What was the intended result of taking that course/making that decision? or What was the goal you were trying to achieve? 

The old way points people backwards, the new way points people forward. Then, once you learn the intention behind the action, you can help the person think through different/better ways to accomplish the goal. 

  1. Praise in public; discipline in private. It’s doubtful you know anyone who enjoys being corrected, especially in front of other people. Worse yet is when one is publicly made to feel insulted or stupid. 

Once during a team training, a supervisor told me about a decision she’d made that caused thousands of dollars in product to be wasted. As she was gathering her team to fix the problem, her manager came over and asked a few questions. Then he turned to the supervisor and said, “You’re worthless,” before walking away. 

The supervisor came to me broken down and ready to quit. “How is anyone on my team going to listen to anything I say now that my own manager proclaimed me to be worthless right in front of them?” 

The truth is that everyone makes mistakes. How managers deal with the mistakes of others sets the tone for the entire workplace. 

Better: Look for what people are doing well and talk about those things in front of the team. However, when someone needs a correction, by all means do that where nobody else can see it or hear it. Even talking where you can be seen but not heard is not good – people can read body language. •

Daniel Bobinski, who has a doctorate in theology, is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him by email at DanielBobinski@protonmail.com or 208-375-7606. 

 

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