A Manager’s Toolkit: Essential Skills, Tips and Techniques for Managers

Calling all managers. Are you winning?

Ok. Was your answer to that question a resounding, fist-pumping “Yes!”? Or was it a little more difficult to answer?

It’s come to our attention that far too many managers – whether junior, senior, first-time or even seasoned leaders – are struggling behind the scenes with some pretty common challenges. And without sounding too fatalistic, if these issues aren’t affecting your team’s performance yet, it’s only a matter of time before they will.

Enough of the scare tactics. Now that we have your attention, let’s set out how we plan to help.

Over the next few posts we’re going to address what we perceive to be the most common issues confronting managers on a daily basis. And in the process, we’re going to assemble what we like to think of as a manager’s toolkit of essential skills and techniques. Like any toolkit, this is designed to help you perform your role more successfully – and with your sanity intact, too.

So where to begin? Well, we thought we’d kick things off with a rather thought-provoking analogy, courtesy of The Eighth Habit author Stephen Covey. In his book, Covey discusses the worrying results of a poll of 23,000 US residents employed full-time within key industries. A sample statistic? Only 37% – fewer than half! – said they had a clear understanding of what their organisation was trying to do. Similarly, only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organisation’s goals.

Now – and here’s the fun bit – Covey puts these results into the context of a soccer team. “If…a soccer team had these same scores, only four of the eleven players on the field would know which goal was theirs. Only two of the eleven would care. Only two of the eleven would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.”

Sobering stuff, right? Are you already pondering the performance of your team? “I find that this analogy really resonates with executives,” says PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda. “Ask yourself this: are all your team playing on the same side? Does everyone know what they need to achieve this year? And if not, how on earth do your team know which goal they’re playing for?”

It’s exactly this sort of potential dysfunction that our toolkit is designed to address. So let’s take a look at its very first essential component:

The right mindset.

This is not as nebulous as it sounds. Especially when it’s broken down into key points, which we’ve helpfully done below.

Be future-focused.

To use the soccer analogy, this is about strategising in advance of your next game – not agonising over the previous week’s match. “So many managers spend their time problem-solving and reacting to something that’s already happened,” explains Anda. “Ideally, managers should be future-focused. They need to make a conscious effort to drive forward momentum and make progress on meaningful work, rather than become paralysed by problems. Of course, learn from any mistakes – but don’t dwell on them.” Need extra inspiration? Anda recommends Teresa Amabile’s TED talk on the Progress Principle for a push in the right direction.

Be open to change.

This one’s so important, it’s already starred in its own post. Set ways of doing things is so last century. Rather, encourage your team members to share any ideas for improvements. “Try asking everyone to come to each weekly team meeting with one thing they think the team could be doing better,” suggests Anda. “It will kickstart a discussion, if nothing else. But more importantly, it will encourage people to regularly revisit the way they perform within their team – and at the same time foster a work culture in which employees feel engaged and empowered.” Note to self: being “disruptive” no longer has negative connotations.

Be a mentor.

Remember: your team is there to help you perform your role successfully. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to steer them in the right direction? More importantly, “Your team members are also your future leaders,” points out Anda. “It’s therefore essential that managers model the right behaviours. Coach them to be capable of taking over.” In a recent TED talk, leadership expert Elizabeth Lyle takes this a step further, stressing that senior leaders and junior managers need to work together to break the “outdated leadership habits [that] are forming right before our eyes”. “Organisations are evolving rapidly, and they’re counting on their future leaders to lead with more speed, flexibility, trust and cooperation than they do today,” she explains. “We need middle managers and senior leaders to work together to define a new way of leading and develop each other to rise to the occasion.” See our first point: learning new skills is a two-way street.

And there it is: one piece of our toolkit is already in place – and, we hope, there’s plenty more to think about, too. So how’s this for a game plan: as we add each component, your challenge is to practise incorporating it into your daily interactions with your team. Because this kit has one key element that we’d like you to keep in mind: it’s for everyday use.

Watch this space.