The Guide to Becoming an Effective People Leader
More than ever employees need a leader they can look to for direction and rely on when things are tough. Someone who is committed to honing their skills and abilities to become a leader employees can, and will, follow. Learn more about the importance of becoming this leader and what you will need to do it in the following guide.
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The way we work has changed - forever. Granted, even before the events of 2020, the way businesses operated, employees worked, and leaders led was evolving in response to industry disruptors, globalization, digital innovations, and customer expectations. These forces demand agile leaders who are prepared to change direction and tactics at a moment’s notice. The speed at which leaders and their teams can do so is defining the winners and losers of this new era.
New skillsets are needed to manage the changing dynamics of organizations, the way they do business, and manage their employees. Critical aspects of work that previously were not in the job description for leaders, such as culture, inclusion, and employee health (physical and mental) are now regular conversations at the boardroom table and actively sought out. These shifts are putting a microscope on organizations in the private and public sectors and highlight skill set gaps in management.
In the following guide, you will find a number of topics related to people management today, as well as what leadership skills are needed to effectively manage people and how to develop them.
Table of Contents
- Workplace Trends Influencing People Management Skills
- Implications of Not Developing Your People Management Skills
- 9 Management Skills People Managers Need Today
- What People Leaders Need from Leadership Training
- Next Steps
Workplace Trends Influencing People Management Skills
Passively acknowledging the current trends impacting the world of work is not an option for those leading people. That’s because these trends are reshaping the rules and expectations of leaders and organizations, and thus changing the management skills required to succeed. As such, here are a few prominent workplace trends currently at play:
Prior to the pandemic, there was a steady shift towards remote work. In Owl Lab’s 2019 State of Remote Work report, it was found that 42% of employees with a remote work option plan to work remotely. Flash forward to a study conducted in 2020 by Robert Half Canada, which found that 85% of Canadian workers want the option to keep working from home post-COVID. These two studies, conducted a year apart, indicate that a preference towards remote work already existed and the pandemic confirmed it for many on a massive scale.
Some organizations have embraced the preference towards remote work by becoming 100% remote, whereas others have taken a blended approach that allows employees to be in the office only part of the time. Either way, employees and teams are more dispersed than ever, which has put added pressure on leaders to manage a remote team and maintain team culture, norms, and expectations without sitting in the same physical location.
As a people manager, it may be hard to adjust to a world where you cannot walk a few steps and informally touch base with a direct report. Of course, this is not the only challenge of remote work. In Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report, the biggest challenges cited by remote workers were collaboration, communication, loneliness, and not being able to unplug.
It is the responsibility of anyone managing people to help employees overcome these challenges and remove any roadblocks. You can do this by establishing frequent communication, implementing technology to facilitate it, encouraging social connection amongst employees, and being cognizant of setting realistic expectations, managing workloads, and communicating outside of business hours.
Public Scrutiny of Leaders and Organizations
Among the respondents of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, 75 percent said that they trust their employer; 27 points more than the government and 28 points more than the media. With such a high level of trust, the public today expects organizations to make the right decisions regarding economic, social, and environmental issues.
Thanks to social media, the public now has greater accessibility to organizations and leaders than ever before. This means leaders are increasingly exposed and find themselves under public scrutiny. A recent example may have just popped in your mind, as there have been many very public cases where a lack of skill, character, judgment, awareness, or bias on the part of one or many, has played out with devastating consequences.
New Generations and Their Expectations of Leaders
The current workforce is dominated by millennials (35%) and generation X (35%), followed by generation Z (14%), and baby boomers (6%). Each of these generational groups has different expectations of the organizations and the management styles of the leaders they work for, as well as the nature of their work. This is making it difficult for people leaders to navigate the diverse expectations and values of their individual team members.
Therefore, it may help to know what each generation generally values in a leader. In a paper published in the Journal of Diversity, Dr. Mecca Salahudin did exactly that. The differences are as follows:
Baby Boomers: This group tends to be more positive in regards to leadership and hierarchy and are willing to respect authority if the leader takes their opinion and contribution into account when making decisions. They value leaders who acknowledge their achievements, involve them in solving organizational problems, and change initiatives as a team.
Gen X: This group tends to be more self-reliant and self-motivated than other generations. They are skeptical and unimpressed with authority and leadership. They admire leaders who are competent and honest with their employees, as they too may come across as straightforward, blunt, and brutally honest.
Millennials: This group tends to be assertive with their views as they have unlimited access to information that forms their opinions thanks to Google. They value relaxed and flat hierarchies where they feel empowered to share their ideas and opinions with others and work as a team to solve problems. Millennials value leaders that move at the same pace that they do. They appreciate continuous and instant feedback, even praise in public to confirm that what they do matters.
Gen Z: This group is the newest and therefore, the least known generation in today’s workforce. Though a study by Deloitte found that Gen Z tends to value organizations whose values align with their own and are flexible in their work environments. Gen Z value leaders who promote diversity and inclusion, promote individuality, personalize their approach, and give them the available freedom to work how they like and where they like.
Any plans for a well-timed and neat digital transformation initiative were thrown out the window with the arrival of COVID. Overnight, businesses needed to adopt innovative digital tools and update manual processes to ensure their company’s stability, growth, and profitability. While imperative, the rate at which this needed to happen inevitably caused growing pains for employees and leaders alike as they adapted to this new way of working on the fly. Ultimately, this situation put many people leaders' existing skill sets to the test and demanded they hone additional skills such as resilience, emotional intelligence, and collaborative problem-solving.
Turnover at the Boardroom Table
In the last three years, the tenure of a CEO has dropped by 14%, from an average of 8 years to 6.9. For others at the boardroom table, it only gets worse with CFOs coming in at 4.7 years and CIOs at 4.6 years. Worse yet, is the tenure of chief marketing officers and chief human resources officers. The average tenure for both roles is less than four years.
These statistics highlight the intolerance boards, shareholders, and stakeholders have for anything less than excellence. What this means for you as a leader is that even when you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career if you intend to rise above the dismal tenure average, you cannot stop developing your silks. Those who rise will be the ones committed to becoming the best they can be and as such, never stop learning or challenging themselves.
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Implications of Not Developing Your People Management Skills
For better or worse, the effectiveness of a leader impacts those in their charge. For example, a study by Gallup found that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. In addition to engagement, leaders also directly impact an employee’s quality of work, well-being, attitude, and growth. Without the right skills, people leaders cannot do their best for employees and the organization.
This is unfortunate because it often leads to struggle, strife, failure, and disengagement, which could otherwise have been avoided with highly relevant training and development activities. If you are still on the fence about the implications of neglecting the development of your people management skills, these statistics should make it abundantly clear.
There is a saying “people quit bosses, not organizations” and more often than not, this is true. In fact, one study confirmed it, with 57% of respondents saying they have previously left a job because of their leader. Not to mention, if they haven’t left yet, there is a high probability they are thinking about it, with 32% saying they have considered leaving a job due to poor management.
In a report by two Stanford professors, they examined the relationship between workplace stressors and mortality claims. Their findings were astonishing. They found that over 120,000 deaths per year may be attributed to how U.S. organizations manage their employees. This doesn’t even account for the physical and mental toll an ineffective leader can take over a period of time.
“But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” Is there a more demoralizing statement a leader could say to an employee who has the courage to speak up and suggest something new? Yet, this is all too common in leaders with a closed mindset who are not continually learning and challenging themselves. Since employees work day in and day out directly with customers, processes, and products, it can be devastating to work under a leader who is unwilling to consider, or even listen to, their ideas based on first-hand experience.
9 Management Skills People Managers Need Today
Typically, change happens gradually. We go to bed at night almost certain the next day will be like the last and only after a long period of time are we able to see that things have in fact changed. In 2020 though, change was swift and constant. Forget planning years ahead, even creating a plan a few weeks ahead was uncertain.
More than ever employees need a leader they can look to for direction and rely on when things go wrong. Someone who is committed to honing their skills and abilities to become a leader employees can, and will, follow. The following nine people management skills are especially important in making this happen.
Uniting a Team
A leader who can unite a team around accomplishing a goal is one who can keep their team on track, accountable, and focused on the goal. However, there is much more that goes into a team dynamic than goals. In a well-known study by Google, they set out to discover what makes the perfect team. They found creating an environment of psychological safety at work had the biggest impact on team success. As a leader, you set the team dynamics and norms. It’s up to you to create an atmosphere where everyone feels respected and free to express their ideas without fear.
It has been found that positive emotions have the biggest influence on our level of motivation. Leaders can create positive emotions in their direct reports by creating a work environment where employees feel cared for. Simple acts such as scheduling one-on-one meetings where they have your full attention, learning more about them, praising their work, believing in them, and actively involving them in the decision-making process can go a long way in motivating others to do their best.
Accountability means taking ownership of your actions and the results. It means doing what you say you will do. As such, leaders need to be both accountable and able to hold those they manage accountable. That’s because when a leader demonstrates accountability themselves, it is more likely that employees will as well. But accountability will not happen by chance. To drive accountability in your team it starts with your leadership skills. To drive accountability, look to involving employees in the goal-setting process so everyone agrees on the goal, ensure expectations are clear, that the employee understands their level of authority and autonomy to ensure the goal is met, that the needed resources are available, and provide frequent and constructive feedback throughout the project.
Diversity refers to the makeup of a team, while inclusion is how the members on that team feel at work. Your team may be diverse but if the members do not feel safe, welcome, and valued they will find it difficult to commit or contribute fully. That’s why leaders need to embrace diversity and foster inclusion on their teams.
In a study of inclusive leaders, the following six traits were found among those studied:
Commitment: They are committed to creating an inclusive environment and understand that their team culture starts with them.
Courage: They challenge historical attitudes and are not afraid to admit their personal blind spots and need for further education.
Recognize Biases: They identify their own biases and actively seek ways to overcome them so they do not influence their decisions.
Openness: They seek out and welcome the perspectives of others, knowing it can make an idea, project, or team stronger, and help mitigate any personal blind spots.
Cultural Intelligence: They are educated on cultural norms and regulate their verbal and non-verbal language to make everyone feel included.
Collaborative: They create a workplace where individuals feel safe and empowered to share their ideas and opinions with others, even if they are different from that of the majority.
Conflict will happen in the workplace. It is how you handle and resolve the conflict that will make all the difference. By developing your entire repertoire of leadership skills, you will be able to understand other perspectives, communicate clearly, actively listen, and employ empathy. All of which will help resolve a conflict with minimal disruption.
Building trust with employees is a critical factor in leadership and organizational success. When there is a significant level of trust in leadership, organizations are better able to move quickly, change as opportunities arise because employees trust the direction the organization is going. There is also an openness amongst employees that promotes knowledge sharing, collaboration, and working together to reach a common organizational goal.
Speaking with clarity, in a way that is concise and inspiring, is a fundamental people management skill. However, most leaders are lacking the communication skills to do so. It was found that 57% of employees report that they’re not given clear directions from their manager, and 69% of managers are not comfortable communicating with their employees. This is an issue. Like any skill, with practice and coaching, a leader can develop these much-needed skills.
Sound Judgment and Decision-Making
Sound judgment and decision-making require a leader to pause, consider all the available facts, impartially weigh the benefits and consequences, and from there, draw a conclusion. It is informed by what we know, such as our business acumen which helps form a greater understanding of the consequences of decisions across an organization. It is also formed by experience. While you cannot fast-track your level of experience, you can advance your ability to make sound judgments and decisions by participating in development activities that provide general business knowledge and exposure to other people's decision making processes.
Leading an empowered team, where they have the freedom to do the job you’ve hired them for, without constant micromanagement, has been linked to heightened job performance, satisfaction, and overall commitment to the company. Not surprisingly, empowerment and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. Research has confirmed this with seven in ten employees ranking empowerment as important to their engagement. To be a leader who empowers employees requires heightened skills in communication, coaching, goal setting, delivering feedback, and driving accountability.
What People Leaders Need from Leadership Training
One of the most important factors when selecting a leadership development program to attend is whether the program will help you meet your goals and career ambitions. This means you should ensure the provider in question offers programs that are convenient, relevant to your needs, and rooted in the realities you face day-to-day on the job before you register In other words, do your research to ensure the training program is right for your needs. Here are four specific things to look for:
There is no one-size-fits-all people management skills training for people leaders. Depending on your experience, department, or team, your development needs may look very different from other people leaders within your organization. With this in mind, look for a provider who has a variety of leadership training programs available, so you can pick the exact right one to meet your needs.
While it was once more annoying than anything to take extended time away from work, family, and obligations to travel and attend a training program, during a global pandemic that is not even an option. As training providers shift to virtual learning, the very best are broken into short, digestible sessions. Not only is this a better way to ensure you can manage training, work, and life, but it also keeps you from feeling more Zoom fatigue than you already do and therefore, more likely to stay engaged throughout the entire training program.
Theoretical leadership training topics can be intriguing to listen to, but when it comes down to it, the everyday leader will struggle to apply them. That’s because in the middle of an interpersonal conflict or project setback, what people leaders actually need are practical tools and lessons that they can draw upon to manage the situation. Therefore, when selecting a leadership development training program, look for one that is created and led by successful leaders who have “been in your shoes,” taken their first-hand expertise, and used it to create a learning experience that they wished they would have had.
Active, Not Passive
Passive learning, where you listen, watch, or read information isn’t the best option when you are learning important leadership skills and trying to figure out how to put them into practice. Rather, look for a training provider who offers live virtual learning sessions where you interact with subject matter experts and your peers in real-time. The discussions and connections these types of programs create are not only meaningful and engaging but memorable, thus making them more likely to be applied back at work.
Managing people has never been easy. It is even less so in unprecedented times such as these. Despite the inevitable ups and downs leadership brings, the role of a people leader can be a rewarding and motivating path, whether you are new to the role or seasoned with years of experience. To make the journey easier for everyone though, it can be hugely beneficial to have the right skills and tools. With effective management skills such as accountability, inclusion, conflict resolution, empowerment, and sound judgment, you can not only see your direct reports succeed and rise, but also yourself, your entire team, and your organization.
Most importantly, you are not on your own to develop these skills. While they often take time and experience to master, you can accelerate your learning and pick up new tools to put into practice, with the support of two specific development tools. These are business leadership programs and one-to-one coaching. Together, along with any leadership development plans your organization has in place, you will find yourself on track to becoming the best people leader you can be.
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