Ramping Up your Management Skills

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. 

— Ray Kroc

Unfortunately, many companies don’t offer support for individual contributors who are making the transition to managers, or help veteran managers make adjustments to their management skills to motivate and engage the four generations in the office today. In many organizations, managers are expected to figure all this stuff out on their own. It’s a catch-22 though because as managers, we’re often times too busy developing those who work for us and we forget to focus on ourselves and our management skills!

So as you work to create your employees’ professional development plans, don’t forget to pay attention to yourself, too!

Commit right now to spending time focusing on what you need to keep your skills current in today’s workplace. Don’t wait for your boss to figure this out for you; instead, make it a priority and figure it out yourself.

To help with the process, check out a previous blog on creating your own leadership development plan. In the meantime, here are six tips you can immediately implement to keep growing and learning in your current managerial position:

1. Participate in offsite training at least twice a year.

As difficult as it is to step out of the office for a while, it’s important to get away from your day-to-day routines—and your desk—every once in a while so you can both get a new perspective and focus on what you’re learning. Online training programs don’t count: this has to be a setting in which phones are turned off, there are no interruptions and everyone is paying attention. Taking this time for your own professional development will make you a better manager back in the office.

2. Learn to be an effective communicator.

management skillsYour future success depends on your ability to communicate—managing up, down, and sideways all require superior communication skills. Communicating with people of different generations can be tricky because of variations in knowledge, experience, work ethic, and expectations. But if you keep in mind that all employees—even people within the same generation—are individuals, you can shove assumptions to the side and just ask each person what he or she wants. Strive to be a great communicator who actually listens to what employees say and is as transparent as possible with them. This approach can help you bridge differences and mitigate conflicts between generations and come up with solutions that motivate all your employees. If you focus on only one skill for yourself, make it this one.

3. Make developing talent a priority.

Ensuring that your employees’ skills continue to improve not only motivates them, it also helps you in the long-run. To move up, you need a successor—someone to do your current job while you assume greater responsibilities (or take on an entirely different role). So make it a priority to develop talent through formal planning in conjunction with your employees. (If you keep the plan only in your head, your best employees are likely to ditch you for a manager who’s willing and able to discuss their career growth with them). If you don’t know how to create a formal plan, seek guidance from your company’s HR department, ask other well-respected leaders how they do official development, or take a peek at an earlier blog I wrote on how to develop leaders in your organization. If you establish a reputation for creating talent in your wake, the brightest and best people will want to come work for you. Then when the time comes for you to move up, you can focus on your new responsibilities, knowing that your old department will be in good hands.

4. Hire smart people.

management skillsUnfortunately, many managers lack this vital skill and end up having to hold a bad employee’s hand instead of focusing on larger strategic issues. Don’t just hire smart people—hire people who are smarter than you. Jack Welch famously said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve got real problems.” Learn not to be intimidated by people who are smarter than you, because hiring them will only make you look more brilliant! And smart people bring with them great ideas that not only benefit the organization but can help you, too, as they take on more responsibilities (that would otherwise fall to you).

5. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo—push yourself to expand your skill set.

If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating. So keep pushing yourself to learn new skills, both within your company and in your industry at large. For example, because it’s critical to understand how the organization makes money, learn how your product is made (and priced) as well as how much your product sells for (and the corresponding profit). Don’t stop there, though: find out what it takes to sell the product to your customers and what customer support is needed for both the short and long term. Just as you should send your employees to talk with other department heads to learn about their processes, do the same thing yourself and perhaps identify projects in their areas with which you can assist. Figure out how you can add value (rather than merely increasing your knowledge), and then prioritize their projects. By volunteering to help, you expand your exposure to other company executives (which can help with a possible promotion down the line) and also learn something new.

6. Build a reputation as someone who gets stuff done.

Be a creative problem solver and build your reputation as someone who adds value across the organization, not just in your department. If you’re bogged down in details, take a project management class to help you get organized and focus on the big-picture items (not just the minor tasks that can eat up your entire day). People are usually either part of the problem or part of the solution. If you focus on the latter, the company leadership will recognize that promoting you is imperative to the organization’s growth and success.

management skillsAnother development option for you to consider (especially of your company offers it) is one-on-one coaching which is probably one of the most worthwhile development tools out there (second only to a relationship with the right mentor). Having someone with whom you can discuss specific problems and ideas can be fantastic for developing skills quickly.

Coaching is also great if you’re focused on advanced leadership skills that are often less about technical components and more about the personal (self-awareness, self-management, integrity, authenticity), relational (interpersonal skills, effective communication, ability to inspire and influence), and organizational (political savvy, diplomacy, organizational awareness, tolerance for change and uncertainty) competencies needed at the senior-most levels.

Even if you work with a coach, though, it’s important to find mentors both within and outside the organization who can help with your personal development. Each type has a different perspective: I found someone inside the company who helped me navigate the nuances of politics and personalities for example, and a mentor outside the company exposed me to a wider array of options for tackling problems and expanding my skills. Finding a mentor isn’t just a matter of walking up to someone and asking him or her to be your mentor. It takes a lot of careful thought and work. For how to do that, review my blog entitled finding the right mentor for you.

Just as Mr. Kroc (the predominant man behind the success of McDonald’s) proclaimed, the quality of a leader begins with the standards you set for yourself. It’s up to you to decide the type of leader you want to be for your employees. Make today the day you’re going to focus on improving your management skills.

As always, best of luck and let me know what you’ve found to be particularly helpful in developing your management skills as a leader!

Next Blog: Learn 8 tips for getting results when you don’t have direct authority.


Excerpted and adapted for this blog with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons Inc., from Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality, by Valerie M. Grubb. Copyright© 2017 by Valerie M. Grubb. All rights reserved.

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