How to Manage Managers

Who manages the managers? These are the people you’ve put in place because you trust their ability to oversee the day and follow through with the tasks of your other team members. Managers need to be effective, productive, and self-motivating—typically, you will know when they are underperforming. Still, everyone falls into a rut, and if you’ve allowed your managers to go through their tasks for a significant amount of time without an update, it could be time for a check-in.

Do your managers need any new training? Do they need modern coaching? Are they functioning as both role models and overseers? How do you know if a manager is succeeding or failing?

What the Experts Say

Structurally, managing managers isn’t any different from managing your other employees. Managers should have values and goals that are on par with your own. You need to provide them with the feedback and tools they need to do their jobs effectively, and in a good workplace the managers are not superficially elevated above your other team members. Still, managing managers does require a certain amount of specialized coaching, so that managers can be consistent with the help they provide. Your managers are supposed to be able to provide the rest of your team with whatever they need at all times.

When someone transitions from department worker to department manager, there are steps in the transition that can make or break their management future. First-time managers need a lot of additional training, even if it seems like they are quite capable of performing right out of the gate. Management coaching involves a lot of personal, professional, and humanist techniques that might be brand new to them.

How to Manage Managers

Cultivate and Affirm Ownership

Managers are faced with the unique challenge of owning their management style. When a manager “owns” their management, it means they embrace both the power and downfalls of their place in the leadership ladder. The positional power they control gives a manager actual influence over the work of other team members, meaning they are also directly responsible for the quality of output that these employees provide.

The decisions that a manager must make are often very delicate. They require the total context of a situation—current and future goals, the direction of individuals, the direction of the company, as well as personal and financial influences. A good manager understands their own authority, and knows when to flex it and when to let people run their own course.

All your managers should understand that what they do affects more than just the workplace. Their performance is directly accountable for the support or downfall of another human being. This requires a lot of responsibility on their end, from personal coaching to professional delegation to holding the other team members to task. The way a manager approaches their ownership and affirmation can shape an entire department’s staff. Managers also affect things such as health, stress, belonging, and retention. If you’re losing people in a particular department, there’s a chance your manager is directly responsible. Team bonding is more important than it has ever been, and your manager should be propagating cohesion, not diminishing it.

If you’re worried that your manager is struggling, here are a few possible signs:

  • Noticeable lack of confidence
  • Hesitance related to decision-making
  • Bias and inclusion towards individuals
  • Obvious lack of enjoyment
  • Negative outlook
  • Job dissatisfaction
Model Desired Behavior—Don’t Dictate It

Ultimately, people learn how to lead from those in positions above them. Human beings are in a constant state of learning, a constant flow of absorbing minute changes in setting, personality, and structure. Your managers are always being watched, whether they think so or not—this includes during breaks, lunches, off-hours, and company retreats. Your managers need to be exemplary. You don’t need to demand strict behavior from them, but they should be aware and conscious of their social and professional influence among your team members. If you want to know how your managers are being observed, simply ask your employees in a private meeting or request anonymous feedback.

Understand Their Management and Leadership Style

Occasionally, it might be a good idea to have your managers collectively reflect upon and share their management styles. You should be intimately aware of what your managers are doing and how they are structuring your departments—they should be arms of your values and needs.

Whatever insights you glean from your management team will be useful in getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your departments, but it will also let you know how you can properly support your managers. Some managers are big picture, and others love delegating tasks. Your managers need to be able to supply a totality of support for your teams, and anyone who is lacking might need additional coaching.

Determine Success Based on Individual and Project Metrics

There is no better way to evaluate your managers than by judging a team’s performance. Managers exist to foster growth within a team, to help motivate, develop, structure and engage. Through the team, you can gain an understanding of their success as well as where they need to improve. Look at the total performance of a team, from daily operational tasks to finishing projects.

Consider their scope of work, including what the team needs to effectively accomplish their daily tasks and long-term projects. Are your managers focusing on productivity, and are they engendering goodwill among team members through positive reinforcement? Are the clients happy? Are your team members happy? Does your manager seem overly focused, or overly stressed?

You can utilize your own metrics to gain a sense of how your team is growing, but ultimately your employees need to be happy about where they’re at in your company. Managers should be evaluated on structural things such as individual development, employee satisfaction and employee retention. Your manager should be the most encouraging member of any team, the one that believes in projects, meets deadlines, avoids burnout, and promotes overall goodwill.

Truly great managers can judge projects by their individual metrics—they believe in success and are striving to meet it. These managers emphasize company values, consider future opportunities, and are an endless font of support. Good managers should be a backbone, but they also need to know they’re being supported in turn. Managers should know that they’re provided with the resources, education, and tools they need to do their jobs well. Also consider how often you have to meet your managers where they are versus how often they come directly to you with what they need.

Respect Their Position as Manager and Allow Them to Task Their Teams and Set Deliverables

While it is important to know what youre managers are doing in their respective departments, it’s also important to give them requisite space to work. Make sure your managers understand each department’s objectives, and then allow them to work within their means, choosing where to prioritize their time and effort. Managers should always be focused on priorities of the highest value—they don’t need to micromanage your staff into the ground over small things that can get worked out between team members.

See Them in Action

Observation is key to understanding, and now and then you may have to step in and see the work they’re doing firsthand. There are many ways to do this, from observing key meetings to watching feedback to observing their daily interactions. If your manager focuses on things beyond the scope of the office, you can travel with them to off-site locations. You can schedule job interviews together, review performance evaluation, or simply take a few minutes each day to take walks through each department and casually see how things are going.

There are many opportunities throughout the work day to learn about management behaviors and styles, but remember that all your managers might be functionally different, and you need to reflect and absorb before you critique.

Build Relationships With Your Managers’ Teams

It’s structurally important to build authentic relationships with your teams, because it gives you a better sense of your organization and where people are at. The better your employees know you, the more comfortable they will feel coming to you with qualms or questions. This makes it easier for you to ascertain promotions and internally scout for positions of upward mobility—it’s also a great way to retain staff. Every time you strengthen relationships, you strengthen your business as a whole. This is a great way to improve employee morale.

You can get to know each manager’s team by scheduling lunches, having talks, connecting during social gatherings, or scheduling check-ins with individuals and really listening to what they have to say. Your managers don’t want to feel as though they’re being micromanaged, but they should ultimately understand that they are part of your operation.

Compliment Them in Public

While this goes for everyone, complimenting your managers is always a benefit. If you respect someone and like the job they’re doing, they should know it. Direct, transparent compliments in public settings are a great way to reinforce a sense of belonging, and this goes for your managers too. Plus, when everyone around you sees that they are valued, it strengthens the motivations and morale of the team. It goes without saying, but this goes double for negative comments—keep your criticisms to closed-door meetings, and your praises to the everyday.

Use One-on-Ones to Coach

Meetings come with the assumption of agenda-focused conversation or updates, but sometimes you need to use your meeting time as one-on-one coaching opportunities for your managers. Your managers want to grow into their roles and become better at their jobs just like anyone else, and they need the same amount of admiration and critique as anyone else.

Your managers exist in their positions for a reason. They contribute to your company by implementing your policies and structuring your teams. Any one-on-one coaching opportunity should serve the same function, where you impart company values and structure their future within the company.

Create Trust So Managers Can Come To You for Help When They Need a Sounding Board

Your management team cannot function if they don’t feel they can trust you. When you create and demonstrate trust in the long term, your managers know they can come to you for help, for questions, and for ideas. Just because your management staff is made of leaders doesn’t mean they don’t also need to be led—they will respond to answers the same as the rest of your staff. Encourage your management team to pick your brain and seek your advice for their questions and challenges. If they feel they need to conquer everything on their own, they might just keep their quandaries to themselves.

Managing Managers Is About Managing Relationships

We are all humans, and structurally we all have the same needs. Properly managing your managers is knowing how to sail through this sea of relationships and bring everyone on board. Open communication, acknowledgement, and motivation will foster growth among your managers. You should know their daily responsibilities, management styles, and needs.

Your managers should feel empowered to do their jobs well, and should have all the tools to effectively lead their departments. When you properly structure your management team and keep them in the fold, they will lead your organization to success. If you’re looking for new ways to connect your managers and team members, consider improving morale with team building games that help foster relationships and strengthen bonds!

Managing managers isn’t easy, but it’s made possible by understanding behavior, cultivating a good environment, and setting them up for success. You should respect their position but also leave an open-door policy where they can come to you with their challenges and struggles. Your managers are supposed to be a part of you and your values, and correctly managing them means treating them with the same respect. Model the behavior you’re looking for, give them consistent coaching, and watch them soar.

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