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Five Simple Steps to Being a Terrific Manager

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To become a terrific manager, the objective of Mark Ernst’s presentation at the March FMA Virtual Conference, it helps to ask a few questions of yourself.

How many terrific managers have I had?
What qualities made them that way?
Would I consider myself one already?

Ernst, the principal at Ernst Enterprises LLC, a management and business advisory services company, has been posing these three questions to conference attendees for years. The answers to Question 1 range from a low of zero to a high of four, with two representing the typical response. Most managers, in other words, don’t make the “terrific” cut.

So what traits do those special ones possess? To Ernst, the qualities of a quality manager fall under five distinct umbrellas: they operate with integrity; they are subject-matter experts; they coach, mentor and develop their employees; they deal properly with slackers; and they don’t micromanage.

And while the respondents don’t rate many of their past and current bosses above average, even fewer of them think of themselves in those terms. Fortunately, as Ernst notes, the path to terrific is not overly difficult to navigate. The five main traits are not particularly onerous. They do not require otherworldly skills. They merely require the commitment to do so, not allowing your own tasks and responsibilities to impede you.

Ernst broke down each trait, explaining what it constituted and why it was important.

Operate With Integrity

While this is an idea few can dispute, what exactly does it mean to operate with integrity? Ernst defines it as maintaining honest, strong moral principles.

Some of the traits of the manager who operates with integrity include keeping commitments, taking responsibility when failure occurs, delivering on promises, while avoiding gossiping and spinning information. “Don’t leave people with the wrong impression. People will accept there are things you can’t share, but they won’t accept that you lied to them.”

Ultimately, it begins and ends with honesty. “If you don’t trust your manager, it’s difficult to do your best work.”

And being honest doesn’t just apply to the manager. He says you need to surround yourself with honest people. “If the people who report to you are dishonest and you’re allowing them to stay, that destroys your credibility,” he says.

Be a Subject-Matter Expert

You have to know your job, backwards and forwards. If not, your employees will see right through you. Managers who haven’t mastered their subjects will deliver bad information, or no information at all. Eventually, employees will seek out other sources, perhaps higher up the chain of command, to get the needed information.
“Why is competency in your job so important? Ernst asks. “It’s one of the first steps to credibility.”
Coach and Mentor Employees
Ernst argues that properly developing talent is the single-most important trait  to be remembered as a valued manager. Doing so demands commitment and involves numerous steps to perform properly.

A few of the requirements are:
• Set clear performance objectives. There should be no dispute what your employees are expecting from you, either in the day-to-day or when a new project is initiated. A helpful way to ensure this is to ask the employee to explain back what it is you’re looking for.
• Provide regular, timely and frank feedback. Whether positive reinforcement for a job well done, or constructive criticism when a mistake is made, the message needs to be communicated and it should be done in a responsive manner. “As long as feedback is specific and sincere, it’s valuable.”
• Provide career guidance and development opportunities. Several times annually, a manager should sit where an employee wants to be, and how that objective can be achieved. Ernst emphasizes that regular one-on-one meetings are absolutely critical to proper development.
This element of terrific managing may be the most challenging, particularly for people raised in a different environment, he concedes.“We Boomers had to live in a desert. How do you know you’re doing a good job? Well, the manager hasn’t yelled at you,” he recalls.
Millennial employees, in particular, don’t work that way. And they’re not wrong. “A desert is a terrible place to be. Everybody needs feedback.”

Deal with Slackers
Ernst defines a slacker as an employee who doesn’t meet the performance, behavior, rules or values of a company. Virtually all of us have worked with such employees. And many of us have worked for the manager who tolerates such conduct.

When the underperforming employee is not dealt with, Ernst says, morale and engagement suffer.

“Tolerating slackers is not viewed as you being a nice guy. It’s you viewed as being weak and ineffective. It destroys confidence in you and destroys your credibility.”

Failing to properly deal with slackers is typically some combination of a perception of not enough time to handle the problem, uncertainty how given the failure of past efforts to effectively address these types of employees or the lack of support from upper management.
If these things describe your mindset toward this particular challenge, Ernst says, “This is where you have to have the courage to ask for help.”

Don’t Micromanage
Finally, there is micromanaging, when a supervisor is overly involved in controlling every detail of a project or work being performed. It’s a trait borne out of insecurity, he says.
For the manager, there’s a fear that if a job is not done well, it will reflect poorly on the supervisor. At the same time, a job done well suggests the manager is not needed.

But there are significant costs, to both the manager and the employee, when micromanaging is in place. For the manager, it erodes control and trust, leads to burnout and results in high turnover with the people you’re supervising. For the employee, the perils include the failure to grow and learn, a decrease in confidence, a loss of trust in management and the fostering of a feeling of dependence. It ultimately results in a loss in job satisfaction.

Opting not to micromanage does not mean being completely hands off. Some situations demand more scrutiny, such as when a new employee has come on board, an existing employee is on a performance improvement plan or when the costs of a mistake are significant and greater care must be taken to avoid one.

“Becoming the manager that people remember as having had a big impact on their development isn’t hard; rather it is focusing on those actions that allow each of us to do our best work and make contributions that are recognized and rewarded by the manager,” Ernst said.

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