Make Small Changes to Be a Better Manager

Manager in a meeting

Written by Dan Callahan

I'm the VP of Global Services at CGNET. I manage our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses. I also provide consulting and handle a lot of project management. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

February 10, 2022

I am in the middle of a week-long security training (Microsoft 365 Compliance Center; expect a post soon) but decided to write one more post about managing. I had a lengthy discussion with a colleague about her management challenges, and we hit upon some small changes that might help her—or you, or me—be a better manager. I will share a few of the tips here. If you are relatively new to management, I hope these tips help. If you have been at managing a while, I am sure you have more tips for being a better manager that you can share.

What does it mean to be a better manager? A lot of ink has been devoted to that question. I will highlight a few things.

  • Is your team accomplishing the work it owns, effectively and efficiently?
  • Are you developing your staff to become better contributors and achieve their personal goals?
  • Do you contribute thought leadership that helps the organization exceed its goals?

Those are some big tasks. No wonder becoming a better manager is not easy.

If you want to become a better manager, you first need to free up some time for the task.

Let Technology Help You

There are all kinds of tools out there that can help you regain some of your time. You can use a note-taking app like OneNote, Evernote, or Notion to record meeting notes. Do this while you are in the meeting, not after. (Better yet, delegate note taking to the entire team!) Since you may be meeting over video, use the tool to record your meeting (Zoom, Teams and other apps will do this). Press Record at the beginning of the meeting, stop the recording at the end. Does someone who arrived late to the meeting want to catch up? Send them a link to the recording. Boom, done.

Do you get those morning emails from Microsoft 365’s Viva Insights? Maybe they seemed creepy at first. But they are just observing my activity and making some helpful suggestions. Such as, maybe not answering every email within five minutes of receiving it. Or highlighting things from your mail or chat that sound like action items.

If technology gives you five or ten minutes a day to be a better manager, that will make a difference.

Protect Your Schedule. It’s Your Most Valuable Resource.

Speaking of time, have you noticed how Teams will tell you when there are five minutes left in the meeting? I find that handy, as it helps me end meetings on time. If you end your meetings on time (and start them on time!) people will think of you as a better manager. Why? Because you are showing them that you respect their time.

I have also heard from organizations that have made it a policy to end meetings five or ten minutes before the scheduled end time. I love the idea. Nothing makes me crazier than attending back-to-back (-to-back…) meetings. If you get a few minutes in between meetings, you get a welcome opportunity to take a breath, reflect on the last meeting, think about the upcoming meeting or whatever. You are a better manager when you have the time to do the work.

Lead the Team. Don’t Be the Team.

If you were part of the team and then promoted to manager, it is easy to want to hold onto that feeling of camaraderie with your fellow team members. Be aware of two pitfalls as you move from “one of the team” to “leading the team.”

  • It is tempting to take on the lion’s share of the team’s work. Perhaps you want to show the rest of the team that you are still prepared to “roll up your sleeves” and get the work done. Bad idea. Your team wants you to be the leader. That means devoting some of that “roll up your sleeves” time to leading: organizing, challenging, communicating, clearing roadblocks. Understanding this added role will make you a better manager.
  • You might want to act as if nothing has changed now that you are the team’s manager. Recognize that things have changed. You are the one in charge. You have an additional role now: the leader. Does that mean you need to renounce your friendships with team members? No. However, you do have an added role. The organization is counting on you to make hard choices about the team if it comes to that. I once announced to my team that they could count on me to tell them the truth. After the meeting, a team member pulled me aside and advised me that sometimes I might not be able to keep that promise. He suggested I be less grandiose about my promises to the team. I have never forgotten that lesson.

Harness the Power of the Team

You will become a better manager if you leverage the strength of your team. The team is not another set of arms or legs for you. They are individuals, each with skills, knowledge and perspectives that can enhance the quality of your group’s work. You can use the team to lift everyone up. Hold a team meeting where each team member talks about their work. In doing so, you create a setting where team members can ask themselves, “How does my work stack up against my peers?” This is a powerful way to communicate what you expect of each team member.

The team can help you work through a problem and arrive at a solution. Being a better manager does not mean having all the answers. It means fostering an environment where everyone feels welcome to contribute ideas and insights.

Look Beyond Your Organization for Insights

I have shared some tips for being a better manager by improving your efficiency. How about your effectiveness? These “unprecedented times” (drink!) have spurred organizations to address transformation. Maybe your organization is going through that as well.

Here is where you can be a better manager by developing your chops as a thought leader.

  • Put together your personal “advisory board”. Fill it with folks whose opinions you value. Folks who challenge you. People who do not think like you. Welcome different perspectives. Think about how changes in the world might affect your organization. Ask for help and advice in this non-threatening space.
  • Be a good listener. Ask lots of questions and give people a chance to respond. Watch how people work, what tools they use, how they organize their time. Ask yourself how a generation that grew up playing video games, typing on their phones, engaging in social media, streaming media and so on… what different perspective will this (or these) generations bring to the work setting?

These are just a few ideas on ways to make yourself a better leader. What tips would you like to share with others?

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