Five behaviours to adopt to lead well

Paul Turnbull and Caroline Boyd, directors of The Manager Hub, discuss the top five relationship-focused behaviours needed by managers over the next year

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

There’s no avoiding the continuing impact of COVID-19. Organisations have had to rapidly embrace whole new ways of working, and managers have been plunged into getting results through people they are no longer seeing every day.

As business psychologists, we’ve been keen to understand how the highest performing people managers have coped with the past months, and how they are likely to approach the next year. We carried out a piece of research involving 150 learning and development and HR heads in a wide variety of global organisations to find out.

What we uncovered reinforced our own experiences of working closely with managers, and emphasised the overwhelming need to focus on relationships. There’s no escaping the fact that a trusting, open and positive connection between a manager and direct report is key to engagement, motivation and productivity. This has always been the case, but it’s more important and challenging than ever right now. Neglect it at your peril!

So, what did the research suggest are the top five relationship-focused behaviours needed by managers over the next year? 

Support wellbeing

“My manager cares sincerely about what’s happening to me.”

Individuals have very different circumstances and will be impacted in different ways by the pressures placed on them by new ways of working. The best managers will seek to understand these impacts, and help their team members to adjust in a way that maintains their physical and mental wellbeing.  

Managers should be prepared to ask questions that matter and listen deeply to the answers. It’s not enough to offer a cursory ‘How are you?’ Take the time to fully understand the perspective of the other person by asking them what they need, and give them the space to admit that they may be struggling.

Build engagement

“I am making progress towards meaningful goals; my work matters and I have a voice within my organisation.”

Managers have an important role to play in ensuring that people:

  • trust in, and are trusted by, those they interact with;
  • feel that their voice is being heard;
  • see that their work is recognised and valued;
  • know that they are making progress towards meaningful goals;
  • experience absolute clarity around expectations on availability and workload.

The best managers have regular, two-way conversations with employees around their engagement, and are willing to listen even when it may be uncomfortable, taking action where necessary.

Maintain team connection

“I belong. I’m part of something; we’re in this together.”

The highest performing managers recognise that team cohesion, a sense of belonging and a spirit of shared momentum are key to helping individuals ride through the uncertainties and emotional upheaval of working within the pandemic. Recognising inputs, highlighting collective progress and creating opportunities for collaboration are fundamental to maintaining morale and momentum.

While we have to accept that we can’t replicate ‘water cooler moments’ from home in the way that they happen naturally in the office, by being more thoughtful about the conversations team members need to have with each other, managers can facilitate virtual meetings and get togethers which not only give space to agree new direction and goals, but also provide time for people to connect.  

Enable autonomy

“I have true ownership of my work; I am trusted, and have the space to make a difference in my way.”

Great managers recognise that giving individuals autonomy and ownership is hugely motivational, building a foundation of deep trust and respect.

Demonstrating a belief in their abilities, and a willingness to accept their approach, gives individuals space to stretch themselves and produce work they are truly proud of.  Micro-management is rarely effective, so resist the urge to control.

Adaptability and flexibility

“My manager is adaptable and flexible; together we can find the positives and the opportunities in whatever comes our way.”

Faced with so much change, the most successful managers will be those with a positive and resilient mindset who are able to role model a willingness to adapt quickly to new situations, and are courageously curious to explore what’s possible rather than getting stuck.

Whilst all of these behaviours are more easily displayed through face-to-face interaction, the need to be considered and deliberate about them, rather than expecting them to happen organically, at least gives managers an opportunity to focus where it matters.  Managers must continue to hone their remote skills, and experiment with ways to help individuals shine, without relying on being alongside them.  

Managers matter more than ever; this is your opportunity to make a powerful difference to the people who work for you and your organisation.

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