Manager training is a great opportunity for both new and experienced managers to learn and share crucial skills. However, there are some skills you'll need as a manager that aren't often included in the curriculum.
Although it's common to hear terms like 'leadership' and 'management' used interchangeably, these two practices are fundamentally different.
At its core, management focuses on allocating and applying resources effectively; leadership focuses on inspiring others to work towards a specific goal.
In order to become a great leader and a great manager, it's crucial to have a solid comprehension of both these practices — where they intersect, and how they're combined to achieve results. At the intersection between leadership and management, you'll find soft skills and emotional intelligence.
Soft skills and emotional intelligence
Although the application of soft skills doesn't always correlate directly with quantifiable results, the cumulative effect is significant. Officevibe's Jacob Shriar wrote a great piece recently, titled "Why EQ Is the New IQ," describing the importance of emotional intelligence, and how it impacts an organization.
Despite the importance of EQ and soft skills, they're not extensively covered in many manager training programs. With that in mind, let's go over a few of the most important soft skills for a manager to develop in their own work, and to cultivate in their team.
This is something that likely was covered in manager training; however, there's a greater depth to accountability that isn't often explored.
Accountability can mean many things, from the personal accountability you maintain as a leader and manager, to the accountability towards goals that employees are often held to.
The less sophisticated understanding of accountability focuses on it as something that a person is actively held to. For example, you've been given a task or responsibility by a superior, and they're holding you to an expectation of results; however, accountability is bigger and more powerful than that.
The most motivational form of accountability is that which you embrace as an individual, rather than accountability you're held to by others. Instead of being held accountable for a task, an individual takes on the more empowered mindset of "I own this. It's mine to succeed in, and to excel in."
It's important to find that higher level of accountability within yourself, and help others to find it as well. A great way to inspire that is by helping each member of the team see the purpose in their work.
Modern business is a rapidly changing environment. Managers who are able to adapt to these changes and help their team do the same are at a significant advantage over those who can't.
Adaptability is a tremendously useful quality to promote within your team, so that when things do change, they're not left feeling stuck. Think about ways you can help your team to be more agile, and adaptive to change within your industry, your organization, and your office.
One great way to promote adaptability is by supporting learning and professional development initiatives. By helping keep your team educated on the latest techniques, tools, and strategies, you'll be helping them to proactively adapt to changes, rather than taking a reactive approach, or worse yet, staying stagnant.
In a great article titled "Why Soft Skills Matter," MindTools listed inclusion as one of the soft skills that are often missing from a manager's toolkit.
Each member of your team has an abundance of strengths, and many of those strengths are unique to them. By actively promoting diversity and inclusion within your team, your organization is more likely to gain from those unique strengths.
Seeking and embracing the diversity that exists in your current team is a worthy effort, and it's not difficult to accomplish. Take time to learn what it is about your teammates that makes them unique, and also where they're similar so you can fill diversity gaps as you work to expand.
Help your colleagues to understand what makes them and their teammates uniquely valuable.
Although recognition is often referenced in manager training, it's often approached with a sub optimal strategy. Employee of the Month and Years of Service awards are a couple of the most common approaches to recognition within an organization, but they're problematic for many reasons.
Celebrating the Employee of the Month, by its very nature, leaves out every other member of the team. There are other employees whose contributions deserved recognition throughout that month, but under this system, none of them are recognized for those efforts.
Years of Service awards are equally problematic, because they're based solely on tenure. It doesn't take much deep consideration to realize that the ability to hold down a seat for a long time isn't really what Years of Service awards are attempting to recognize anyway. Ultimately, you're thanking these employees for the years' worth of contributions they've made.
The fix for this is relatively simple: recognize great work frequently, inclusively, and in the moment. It's a major challenge for a single manager to accomplish this, but techniques like peer-to-peer recognition eliminate the managerial overhead. This goes back to the resource allocation function of a manager's position. It's not necessarily your job to personally recognize every large and small contribution, but to ensure they are recognized.
In her Harvard Business Review article, The Soft Skills of Great Digital Organizations, Dr. Alexandra Samuel explains the importance of keeping an element of playfulness alive as it relates to implementing modern tools. This advice is equally useful in other contexts.
Work isn't expected to be a series of games, but if you can't add at least a small element of play, you're missing out on a crucial element of the human experience, and an important growth opportunity. As Sami Yemigun explains on NPR's All Things Considered, play isn't just for kids:
"It helps us maintain our social well-being. And it's not just board games that do this, but soccer leagues, or playing paintball in the woods. And not just after-work recreation, but team-building exercises in corporate offices. Playing is how we connect."
Whether it's team events, or a novel approach to day-to-day tasks, it's beneficial to include an element of play in your work, and those around you.
Manager training does an excellent job of preparing people for the job ahead of them, but there are many crucial skills that don't make it into the curriculum. Think about ways you can apply these elements into your own managerial style, and improve on them.
Ready to take the next step toward becoming a better manager and a better leader?