I managed large teams for over 20 years in corporate and have been coaching C-Level clients for 14 more. During this time, I’ve probably run into every scenario a manager can experience. Here are my top 30 hacks to make you a better leader (in no special order):
1. Motivate people, don’t command them. It’s a lot harder, but you will like the results a lot more.
2. Identify your key employees and reward them so they know they’re valued. Don’t worry about losing poor talent.
3. Translate upper management’s vague directives into things your team can understand and take action on.
4. Never bullshit your staff. If something requires secrecy for the good of the company, just be clear on ‘I cannot discuss that’.
5. When things go well, don’t tout yourself to upper management, tout your team. You’ll get the credit as well.
6. Don’t worry about losing poor talent. In addition, the best thing you can do for your best people is to get rid of the worst people.
7. Remove any obstacles in the way of them accomplishing their tasks.
8. Elevate the individual and team as a whole when someone does great work. Let them take the limelight.
9. When someone on my team screws up, be the responsible “buck stops here” person as the manager. Act as the umbrella to ensure the wrath of senior management does not rain down from above, and it’s your responsibility to discipline them after you catch shit from on high. In addition to that, any discipline effort should be an opportunity to learn from mistakes. Help them to help themselves when they need to recover from a mistake.
10. Don’t be their friend. It’s not worth it. You are no longer “One of the guys/girls” You can have fun, don’t be a jerk, but you will never be one of them again. Don’t try to be. Be cool, but not that cool, otherwise you will get walked on.
11. The more you make your employees feel like they’re working with you, and not for you, the smoother the sailing. That being said, make sure boundaries are clear.
12. Make sure each area is covered in the case of a family emergency or vacations and have them matrix-train their co-workers in their respective responsibilities.
13. It’s better to be a just, unkind manager than a kind, unjust one, in more ways than you can imagine.
14. Always remain calm. The way you react to and handle situations will have a profound and lasting effect on your staff.
15. Criticize in private, praise in public. Praise often, punish seldom.
16. Never promise something you cannot deliver on.
17. Learn everyone’s first names.
18. Figure out the intricacies of discipline and HR at your organization. Be careful how you treat different cultures and people with different (dis)abilities. A fellow supervisor hired a woman without really verifying her abilities and background. When it became apparent that she didn’t know anything, and could not produce any useful code, the supervisor started the whole termination procedure: Tell the employee she’s at risk of being fired, start a test period – she has to do this exact work by this date, etc. At the end, the supervisor told the employee she had failed and would be fired shortly. The employee cried and wailed. It turns out the supervisor had missed one of the steps in the termination procedure, so he had to start it AGAIN. Any serious disciplinary action has to be absolutely by-the-book. Get help and a buddy in HR.
19. Learn to listen. Especially to the new hires. And the quiet ones.
20. Be loyal to your employees and they will be ten times loyal right back.
21. Have a few bucks squirreled away so those that really, REALLY need it can get a lunch.
22. Don’t go nuts when one rule is broken.
23. Command respect, do not demand respect.
24. Learn to delegate. It creates some frustration in the short term, but saves you huge amounts of time and makes people feel more important in the long term.
25. Be an advocate for your good workers.
26. Get everyone comfortable chairs. Trust me.
27. Create an environment that people want to work in. I find people work harder and are more motivated if they’re happy. Don’t micromanage, treat people with respect, and create a sense of joining a team rather than a top-down approach.
28. Always be fair. Everyone talks to each other and compares the slightest things whether you like it or not. If you have favorites or treat someone differently, eventually people will find out. This will definitely effect how they see you.
29. Create an open door policy. My favorite policy is that I never mind when people ask questions about the situation or what they need to do. I’d rather someone mess up rather than doing noting. Of course, I’d rather someone ask me questions so they can figure out how to do things on their own, effectively, and efficiently too. Similarly, this also helps with building respect, creating a sense of team, and having more motivated and happy people.
30. MOST IMPORTANT: Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.