Competitive advantage: a good manager

Carlo Atienza-Sui Generis

ONE of the things I am grateful for in my entire working life is that I have always had good managers. Do not get me wrong because they are far from perfect, but somehow their idiosyncrasies helped me ground my expectations and forced me to take the best of their people management skills. And I realized when I began handling my own team that I was using the lessons I learned from them in managing my own.

It takes a great deal of effort in managing people with varying degrees of engagement, motivation and performance. It takes more than good technical skills and knowledge to manage a team. A good manager is someone who motivates their team but at the same time is assertive in ensuring results. They build relationships on foundations of trust, open communication and accountability.

A good manager also decides based on the team’s needed output and not based on office politics. They are consistent and patient, have foresight, and can communicate effectively to a diverse group of people. Being a good team member does not necessarily make someone manager material.

It takes a certain degree of experience and ability to use skills and knowledge to influence people and outcomes that make a good manager. And whatever industry you are in, a good manager will always be a competitive advantage.

Having a good manager helps a team understand what the organization expects from them. Managers ensure that the executive’s decisions and direction are communicated to the team in a way that helps them understand their role in achieving the organization’s goals. As the mediator between management and their team, a good manager helps promote alignment throughout the organization.

I used to work in a hospital where I first learned what our team’s key result areas were and how they translated to my key performance indicators. It helped me understand how strategic direction could be translated into operational terms and made me realize that if I did not see the bigger picture, I would not understand how my work contributed to a bigger cause. My manager helped me understand that when I did my job well, patients were properly treated. Only a good manager could help me understand the connection between my work and the organization’s goal.

A good manager also guides their team when there is a need to either empower their team or teach them a lesson. Understanding how their team works and learns will translate to better productivity because a good manager knows when to step in and when to allow their team to innovate and improve processes.

When I was leading a learning and development team, we followed a process in developing both online and facilitator-led courses. My manager then taught me to track productivity so I could understand which part of the process was taking too much time and asked me to come up with recommendations. At first, I felt it was a waste of time but when I started discovering where my team could improve, it became easier for me to look for solutions. It also made me appreciate my work and helped my team do their work easier and faster.

What I also appreciated from one of my managers was the fact that my mistakes became learning experiences. I remember the first time we made an online learning portal, and it was the first time that our team had the opportunity to make one. It was basic and crude, and we took so many wrong turns that there was a time when we almost gave up. My manager walked with us and even spent a day just focusing on us. Contrary to our expectations, it became a hit with our client and other clients started noticing and also wanted their own.

The same manager also instituted a practice during weekly team meetings. We took turns presenting our projects and highlighting the innovations we incorporated in our materials. So even if we handled different clients, we had a bank of ideas where we could draw inspiration, and it became easier for us to brainstorm for learning solutions to new training challenges. A good manager knows how to motivate their team and sustain their engagement by capitalizing on their team’s strengths and complementing their weaknesses.

Conflicts are unavoidable especially when there are differing opinions and personalities in a team. A good manager knows how to handle and settle conflicts within their team. I used to be part of a team where every group had one member with a strong personality, and some discussions meant that the person with the loudest voice won. Thankfully, my manager knew how to handle them. I learned that the secret to that was getting to know your team and understanding their motivations. It becomes easier to negotiate and get the work done.

Probably a common thread running through all my managers was their investment in my professional development. They would take the time not just to teach me but also to send me to training to improve my opportunities for development, or to keep me updated on industry trends. This also helped me anticipate client expectations and helped me recommend possible solutions using available tools. A good manager understands that their team needs to explore and grow, and their role as a manager is to support the professional development of their team.

A good manager is able to rally different personalities and skills into a cohesive effort to achieve a common objective. Being a good manager is especially challenging today because of the remote working environment and uncertain conditions. But I have also seen how they have thrived given the available tools and limited resources because I have experienced firsthand how it is to have a good manager. And in these times, having a good manager is a blessing I am thankful for every day.

Image courtesy of Airfocus on Unsplash

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