Who was your best manager ever, and why?
Pose this question to employees of any age, background or educational level and the chances are, the reasons people name the manager they do, will have little to do with that person's qualifications, their presentation skills in the team meeting or their technical wizardry with a spreadsheet.
The reasons employees tend to give for their choices include:
She always made time for team members
He helped me to think of the answers for myself
She was fair and equitable towards all team members
He trusted me to make decisions for myself
She encouraged me to try things
You knew where you stood with him/her
This is not a list of the top ten skills you might cover on a management course or an MBA that teaches you project management, budget control or marketing strategies, for example. This seems to be more a list of 'nice guy' personal attributes or characteristics, that one is either born with, or not.
As a new manager it can be difficult to think about and demonstrate such attributes given all the other objectives, deadlines and meetings on your to do list. This list may seem like a bridge too far alongside the new things you need to learn, report on, hit deadlines for... the list goes on. And yet without up-levelling and fully engaging your team, how will you hope to cover these new additions to your list?
By not making time to encourage your team to try new things, find solutions for themselves, talk about an issue that's bugging them, you might never discover:
Which team member is a whizz with spreadsheets
Who has attended Spanish evening classes and is prepared to phone the supplier in Madrid to query the delays
Who would like to be asked to present the monthly report at the team meeting, but doesn't quite trust themselves to ask
Why Fred's performance has seemed a little erratic lately
Who is known by the rest of the team as the assertive/calm/numerical/most IT literate/patient with the photocopier one
In their HBR (Harvard Business Review) article of 2006 and subsequent book entitled 'Why Should Anyone be Led by You?' Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones state that in today's technocratic society, "People want to be led by a person, not by a corporate apparatchik". Being an authentic leader of people involves taking risks (allowing team members to try things out), leading with tough empathy (ensure people know where they stand) and becoming a good 'situational sensor' (by making time for team members and listening).
When your team members answer the question "Who was your best manager ever, and why?" - what reasons will they cite as they sing out your name?