We often hear business leaders talk about how great leadership and understanding people are the key to running a successful company. But when different things drive different people, there’s no one size fits all approach to people management. So how do you ensure your employees are excelling under your company’s leaders?
Notoriously aggressive leaders, like Travis Kalanick and Leon Black, have been successful at running their respective companies. But so have Bob Iger and James Sinegal — leaders who are known to be gentle, and to place great importance on the wellbeing of their employees. Both groups have mastered methods of people management that work within their companies. Although there are many different types of leadership, there are various people management skills that are universal, and essential to effective leadership.
Let’s talk about these essential people management skills, their importance, and how to develop your own leadership abilities.
What is People Management?
To judge where your people management skills stand, ask yourself this simple question. How well do I work with others? If you can honestly say you’re good at working within a group, and at motivating the people around you, you’re well on your way to being a great manager.
What Does Good People Management Look Like?
Being a good people management requires the ability to:
- Establishing trust with your team members
- Work with them at reaching goals
- Get tasks done
- Maintain results
- Create an overall positive experience for those working alongside you
Why are People Management Skills Important?
People management refers to a group of practical and soft skills that collectively make someone a good leader, motivator, and manager.
Acquiring various people management skills helps managers become better team members and leaders. Here is how your work life will improve if you acquire or build out the following people management skills:
Mastering Communication and Trust
A great leader establishes trust with their team, knows how to communicate effectively, and is able to look out for their interests. If you can manage these three things, you will have a much easier time navigating common challenges and changes in the workplace.
According to a study by Emerald, communication and trust both have a direct impact on change management.
Resolving Workplace Conflicts
Resolving conflict in the workplace has always been a manager’s job, be it conflict between team members or between a senior and their subordinate. Naturally, everyone wants a conflict-free work environment. The better you are at conflict resolution, the happier and more productive your team will be.
The ability to relate to others, negotiate, resolve the tension, and be patient in high-pressure situations are all skills that can help resolve tense situations.
Empathy Towards Your Team
When employees are going through a tough time in their personal or professional lives, it is management’s job to make balancing their personal and work demands as easy as possible.
This responsibility can be made easier when you’re able to motivate others, maintain a positive attitude, and understand the individual needs of all your team members. By mastering the skills of supporting an employee, you go a long way towards earning their trust, loyalty, and dedication.
Even when you’re leading it, you’re still one part of a team. Knowing how to work with others allows you to be a better team player and produce better results. A truly great leader can direct a team, but will also roll up their sleeves and work with the team from time to time. Especially when their expertise would benefit the project.
Understanding when to get out of your team’s way, and when to get stuck in the details of a project is the secret to seeing optimal results.
What Are the Roles of People Managers?
The job of a good people manager is to recognize the uniqueness of all team members, and then harness it to the organization’s benefit. The end goal here is to use everyone’s strengths to improve individual performance and drive optimal results.
This requires knowing who to give certain tasks to, who works better in a team, and who works best when they’re left alone. Great leadership is also about building people, which means the assignment of those tasks must align with the employee’s own career goals.
Besides managing the workforce you have, effective people management requires the ability to build out the team with new skills and new hires. Inevitably, it also involves dealing with employees leaving, getting demotivated, and losing focus.
Luckily there are tools to help with this humongous task.
The People Manager’s Toolkit
Talent management software
A lot of organizations use a talent management system to help build out and manage their company’s workforce. Besides hiring, onboarding, and offboarding, a talent management system can help with performance reviews, recruitment, and training and development.
Performance management systems
A performance management system can be purely a method of results measuring, a holistic part of your company structure, or a software solution. Regardless of what you implement, monitoring performance is necessary to identify areas within your team for growth. It is also an important indicator of when recognition and rewards are due.
To be as efficient as possible, you want your team to communicate and collaborate all the time. Especially with remote work, the danger of a team member working in isolation is that they are doing unnecessary, off-target, or double work. However, the real benefit of collaboration is that it drives innovation. Collaborative software and work-sharing tools are essential to modern project work and overall company functionality.
Workforce management software
People management requires a lot of administration, like shift scheduling, task management, attendance management, etc. These repetitive responsibilities are tedious, time-consuming, and take you away from the higher-level goal of the company. Workforce management software relieves you of these tasks and puts your attention back where it should be – driving results within your team.
The 13 Best People Management Skills of All Time
1. Looking at the Big Picture
A high-level understanding of the company and its goals is essential. Being a manager means you are responsible for meeting short-term deliverables, as well as long-term development of your organization and its people.
It is important to understand the details of operation, but not to get swept up in the day-to-day at your workplace. The result of getting too involved at every level is that workers feel micromanaged, and that managerial priorities get overlooked in favor of small tasks.
Similarly, a great manager knows when to pick a battle and when it’s not beneficial for them to sweat the small stuff. Consider an employee who is having trouble staying punctual. They keep coming late because they need to drop off a child at school. A manager who knows what really matters won’t sweat the 15 minutes, as long as the employee’s performance is reliably good.
Of course, you could chew them out for being late all the time. But, by giving that employee a little bit of space, the manager can keep a high performer on their team happy and engaged.
2. Macro management
Macro management is a leadership style where you communicate goals, but leave it to your team’s insight and expertise to meet them. This type of leadership inspires independence and only gives feedback and direction when it is asked for.
The suggested way to macro manage is to make sure the tasks you assign have clear deliverables and are communicated properly. Everyone needs to understand what their responsibilities are. Simultaneously, your team must know that you are available to step in and offer guidance whenever they need it.
As a manager, it is important to have the right workload. Knowing when to delegate your tasks and when to take them on yourself is just as important as trusting your employees to do theirs effectively.
If you put too much work on your team’s shoulders, resentment will grow. If you put too little on them, they will notice and feel left out. Additionally, you would be taking opportunities for growth and development away from them.
Management itself is a full-time job. Don’t expect yourself to assist, motivate, and lead your team while putting too much on your plate.
4. Communication Skills
The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is essential in leadership.
Employees look up to you for guidance, motivation, and direction in times of crisis. Communicating your expectations and knowing when to check in with people is key to avoiding misunderstandings at the workplace.
Effective communication becomes even more important when dealing with high-pressure situations, like managing change.
Here is what effective communication looks like:
- Listening to your team, taking careful note of their concerns, and confirming that you understand them. This is known as active listening.
- Make sure everyone knows what their duties are, and what expectations you have of them.
- Providing productive feedback on employee performance.
- Being honest with employees when something is wrong.
- Acknowledging and answering questions from your team.
5. Emotional Intelligence
According to Harvard Business School, emotional intelligence is “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.”
Emotional intelligence is something you need in abundance in a corporate leadership setting. Whether it’s a big meeting or when you’re managing your team, being able to understand and influence someone’s emotional state is an essential people management skill.
You can develop emotional intelligence by first learning to recognize and regulate your own emotions by practicing mindfulness, and then learning to discern the emotional needs of others.
6. Building Trust
No manager can lead effectively if their team doesn’t trust them. But as trust is not a given, the ability to build trustis crucial.
When employees trust their manager, they are more likely to come to them with problems. In cases where most employees would fear for their job security, like a recession, an assured team would trust you to look out for their best interests.
There is no shortcut to earning the trust of employees, but you can start with:
- Admitting when you’ve made poor judgment calls.
- Listening to the team member who has more expertise than you on a given subject.
- Listening to an employee’s reasons for making a poor judgment call.
- Giving public credit to great work.
- Delivering on expectations you set.
- Defending and promoting your team’s ideas, merits and efforts.
To lead your team to success, you first need them to care about your common goal. Your ability to motivate them could be the difference between success and disappointment.
People have different motivational drivers. Some are concerned with money, while others want acknowledgment. Finding out what motivates each of your employees, and giving them the satisfaction of attending it is an indispensable managerial skill.
No one is immune to making mistakes. Leaders need to know when to take accountability for a bad call. They also need to know when to step up to share the blame when the team has messed up.
When your employees see you being honest and taking responsibility, it will foster trust and respect for you at work.
Some things are harder to talk about than others, but having hard conversations is part of the job for any effective manager. Honesty is especially important when:
- Providing negative feedback.
- Changes need to happen in the workplace.
- You’ve made a mistake, or a bad decision that affects the team.
Your employees need you to be honest with them for the sake of their own growth, and to cultivate a positive work environment.
It’s impossible to give everyone what they want all the time. Chances are that you will often need to negotiate compromisesbetween yourself and members of your team. It helps when you treat leadership as a give and take.
Inclusivity means fostering a democratic form of leadership where employees of all genders, races, backgrounds, and personal convictions are equally valued. Allow everyone in your team to have a voice and give them the room to contribute.
At the end of the day, inclusivity is about making your employees feel like part of the result, as opposed to feeling like they’re just voiceless tools going along with your orders. If all the voices within your company are represented, you can improve employee engagement, retention, and team results.
Once you have made a decision, you need to be able to stick to it, see it through, and maintain conviction. If you do not believe you’re able to lead your team, it is almost certain that they won’t either.
A leader’s mood and attitude are often contagious. For your team to trust your decisions, you need to first show them that you believe in what you’re saying.
13. Giving and Receiving Feedback
There will be people both higher up and below you on the corporate ladder who will have opinions about your leadership. Take that feedback – especially from your team – and acknowledge areas that need improvement.
It is also an important skill to give feedback at the right time and when employees need it the most. Some encouraging words can help a struggling employee do better, and some constructive criticism at the right moment can help another employee improve.
Steve Jobs’ Way of Managing People
Steve Jobs is known for the way he could motivate people. But what exactly were the people management skills he displayed, and how did they lead to his success?
One of the things about Steve Jobs that people remember the most is that his enthusiasm for a new product or an idea was contagious. When he walked into a room and talked to people about a new product or idea, they couldn’t help but listen.
When Jobs met famed musician Wynton Marsalis about his iTunes project, this is how Marsalis described him in an interview with Business Insider: “He was a man possessed. After a while, I started looking at him and not the computer, because I was so fascinated with his passion.”
Respect for Expertise
Steve Jobs had a very hands-on approach to work, and believed in learning from other experts.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
This is one of Jobs’ most famous quotes, and it describes exactly how he felt about getting the right knowledge and expertise in the room.
He kept creatives away from the critics – ideation, explication and critical analysis happened separately so everyone stayed motivated
One of the things that made Apple the success it is today is the generation of ideas in Jobs’ company. Not only were ideas encouraged, but Jobs also knew exactly how to keep all steps in the idea-making pipeline motivated and encouraged. In his idea management process, Jobs had three steps – ideation, explication, and critical analysis.
He was a firm believer in keeping all of these steps separate from one another. The creative people coming up with ideas were important, and so were the people who would critically analyze those ideas. Letting both these parties in one room would have been disastrous for the creatives and their motivation levels.
Best Books on Managing People
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni
People management takes more than just understanding what people need – it also asks you to understand the relationship your team has with each other and to foster the growth and unity of the team as a whole.
If you want to understand the things that might risk your team’s unity and cohesiveness, this book is for you.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel H. Pink
When you’re trying to manage people who are all complex individuals with their own wants and needs, it’s easy to agree with Daniel H. Pink’s philosophy that you need more than just the carrot and stick approach.
This book is for anyone who wants to understand what drives people forward and what motivates them, something that every effective people manager needs to know about.
Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity – Kim Scott
People might tell you to stay quiet if you don’t have anything nice to say, but every manager knows that this isn’t how it works back at the office. When it comes to giving bad news, negative feedback, and giving orders that not everyone will like, how do you keep your team’s trust and respect?
Well, Kim Scott has some advice for you that might help.
Our Conclusion on People Management Skills
Some might say that people management skills are naturally acquired over time. After all, you will learn how to handle people and be a good leader with some trial and error, right?
But why wait? When you purposefully invest and build your leadership acumen, and take charge of your professional development, you will see quicker results from yourself and your team.