Career Advice

February 10, 2014

5 things successful managers do right

5 things successful managers do right


We heard it every weekend during football season. The losing team did not execute the fundamentals.

"Didn't take care of the football."

"Sloppy blocking."

"Didn't wrap their arms on tackles."

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Excellence is achieved by mastery of the fundamentals." The same is true in the working world. Management is complex, but here are the five fundamentals to make sure you get it right.

Set clear expectations
It makes common sense and it is backed up by research ("First, Break All the Rules," by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, 1999). Make sure that your direct reports are perfectly clear about what you expect of them.

This includes job descriptions and lists of responsibilities, but also often-unwritten expectations. Write them down. Review responsibilities and expectations at least twice a year just to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Set goals
Setting goals that are connected to expectations improves performance. This is also backed up by research ("A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance," by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, 1990), but it is truly remarkable how often managers don't do this with direct reports.

Set them annually and quarterly, then follow up. It is ideal to set goals for performance and for development. Make sure that performance goals are connected to the most important goals of the organization. Support each person's development goals with resources.

Provide encouragement and appreciation
It is the right thing to do, and guess what? Research on leadership and management demonstrates that it leads to higher levels of performance ("The Leadership Challenge," by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, 2012).

This does not have to be complicated. At every staff meeting, for example, you can ask each person for his or her most recent proud accomplishment. Appreciation needs to be sincere and given on a regular basis.

Establish an environment of mutual trust
Recent research (James Kouzes and Barry Posner, "To Lead, Create Shared Vision," Harvard Business Review, January 2009) found that what people want most from leaders is honesty. And we know that this is the foundation for building mutual trust that creates an environment for high performance. You need to model honesty and respect for others. And when others on your staff do not act this way, you need to confront the behavior.

Share the vision and mission
In the same Harvard Business Review research referenced above, the No. 2 thing people want from a leader is for them to be visionary -- or forward thinking. This does not mean you have to give an "I Have a Dream" speech at every staff meeting. Simply help remind everyone of the big picture regularly. Why are we here?

We can all easily lose focus on this with the business of daily work. Taking some time once a year to create a vision of the ideal future for your organization, or even your particular unit, is a great exercise for everyone to participate in.

Print these five fundamentals and tape them to your wall at work so you don't forget. Share them with all of your management staff. Master the fundamentals and you will build a winning team.

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