Be a Leader, Not a Boss—and 9 Other Secrets to Being a Great Manager

The skills that got you your new gig may not be enough to help you keep it. If you've just been promoted and don't have a clue about what to do next, these tips from been-there-done-that pros will help you manage like a boss.

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Know your people

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockIn addition to recognizing the traits of a good worker, being familiar with your employees' strengths is crucial. "If Tom is a great cashier, and customers love him, don't have Tom in the kitchen. You need Tom to be energized, and energizing others through his work," says Kevin B. Donovan, MS, senior vice president, Otsuka-People. Donovan stresses the need for bosses to know their employees, both on the job, and off. That means spending time observing their strengths, and weaknesses, so that you can best harness their talents. Think of these strengths as beauty points, he says, and bosses need to find their own, as well. "You must explore ways to provide your employees with an environment to demonstrate those beauty points. I have experienced too many bosses looking to always make improvements in competencies, and capabilities, that will only be temporary at best, and never make a difference in our contributions to the business," he says. Find what your employees do best, and they'll always make you look good. Help them maintain a solid life-work balance, and they'll be loyal forever.

Think like an employee, act like a manager

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockYour employees want promotions, and you want to be noticed by your boss, as well. Avoid these workplace pitfalls and, according to sales and marketing expert, Jerry Acuff, think like an employee to be a great boss. "Employees want us to care about them. They want us to help them succeed. The best way to do that is by providing competent job instruction, combined with providing your workers independence in doing their job," he says. Keep in touch with the things that mattered to you when you were an employee, such as praise for a job well done, and make a point of providing those things. "Fall in love with your people. You have been entrusted with one of the most important responsibilities in life—helping someone else succeed," he adds. Remember that, and you'll always have your staff's devotion.

Be inspirational

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockAnyone can boss other people around, but it takes true skill to inspire. The best way to be an inspirational leader at work, is to feel inspired yourself. Love your work, look for ways to make it better, and then look for ways to make it amazing. Instill that desire and drive into your employees, and they'll fight for you. "People want to work for a leader, not a boss. Boss spelled backwards is double SOB," jokes Acuff.

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Be the fixer

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockIt's the most common cliché in the workplace book—the boss passes the buck (and the blame) whenever something goes wrong. Sometimes you're stuck, and your guy or gal may be showing the clear signs you can't trust a boss. That's OK: Work, like life, is filled with mistakes, and mishaps. Some are minor, some are serious, but all present lessons that bosses, and employees, can learn from. Don't be the boss that flies off the handle when a mistake is made, or, even worse, blames their employees for their own foibles. "Communication, and providing clear instructions, can nip lots of problems in the bud. For everything else, be the boss that fixes the problem, rather than the one that fixes blame on someone else," urges performance improvement specialist, Linda Harris-Cosby, MS Ed, of Harris Training and Consulting. One key way to fix problems? Always be honest with your employees and yourself about what went wrong, and make sure to provide solutions on how to fix it. That way, everybody wins.

Let's be friends—not

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockIf you've been promoted, and are now leading your former peers, you're in a potentially sticky spot. Some people on your staff may feel resentful. Others may hope to capitalize on your former chumminess. As the boss, it's your job to lead your team, not to pal around with them. "Don't pretend you're something you're not. Don't try to be friends with your team, but rather, understand, and respect that the role of a leader is challenging, for both you and for them," cautions Donovan. Does this mean you have to turn a cold shoulder on your former compadres? Of course not, but it does mean you need to create meaningful changes in your at-work interactions. Some ways to do that include respecting the boundaries of your new position by not sharing information your employees should not have. You may have to disengage from watercooler chatter, and never, ever, engage in office gossip. Is your bestie now your employee? That's OK. The way you act in the office does not have to mirror the way you act outside of it. Just keep the boundaries clear, don't show favorites at work (or over-compensate by giving your friend the cold shoulder—you need to preserve those long-term friendships), and make sure everyone understands the new game plan.

Pay attention

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockThe only way you can stay ahead of the curve is by maintaining clear, consistent communication with your employees. This means letting them know you're approachable (if you're not, they may not trust you), and also taking the time to schedule regular sit-downs. Executive career coach Natalie Currie recommends committing to a schedule of monthly meetings with your most significant employees, and keeping this time sacred. "Protect this time in your calendar. During one-on-one meetings, remove all distractions that might keep you from fully engaging in the conversation. Hold the meeting in a quiet space, and silence your technology. A distracted boss is a demotivating boss," she says. Make sure to spend the bulk of this time really listening, so that your employee feels heard, and motivated to contribute.

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Be a strength-spotter

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockNothing is more likely to turn a good worker into a resentful one, than pointing out their weaknesses, over and over again. "As a species, we are quick to notice mistakes and weaknesses in others. Wrong-spotting is even more pronounced when people are under stress. Continually pointing out weaknesses is a sure-fire way to elicit defensiveness in employees," says Currie, who recommends strength-spotting, instead. "This is a simple, easy, highly effective way to bring out the best in your staff. There is a wealth of social science evidence to show that we grow most in our areas of strengths. Catch your people when they are doing something good, and the more specific and timely the praise the better. It only takes a few seconds to acknowledge when someone does something good. Practice this daily, and you will reap significant benefits in team engagement and productivity," she adds.

Let go of the reins

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockCurrie suggests taking 5 percent of the tasks you're currently responsible for, and delegating them to your most trusted employees. "It's easy to fall into the trap of 'It's simpler to do it myself,' and stay in the office, working late. Don't make the mistake of thinking you are protecting your team by taking on all of the work. In reality, you're stifling your team's growth, and depriving them of new learning experiences," Currie says. If you're worried that you may be a control freak, check for these eight signs. You'll need to make an investment in time up front, by coaching your team, but letting them go the distance enables them to rise to the occasion, just as you once did. As an added benefit, you will have more time, and energy, freed up for your most important work.

Accountability counts

doodleDr Project/ShutterstockYour employees want to shine. So make them accountable for their own work load, goals, and responsibilities. "Unfortunately, many bosses tend to dictate what will be done, how it will be done, and when it will be done. This didactic method greatly reduces the interest, and motivation, of people to be accountable for their own work," says Donovan. He suggests starting out by asking your new team what they are accountable for as a group, and what they would like to accomplish, over a defined period of time. "When you engage your team with what needs to be accomplished, and allow them latitude in determining how the work will get done, individual accountability, plus a sense of collaboration, will begin to unfold. If you do not hold people accountable the team tends to undermine each other and the toxicity of the workplace becomes something you will not survive," he says.

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Speak last

doodleDr Project/Shutterstock"Too often, the boss is the first one to share their perspective, leaving their team with no other option but to agree," says Currie. She stresses that the role of a good boss is to stimulate thinking, and invite the group to share a broader set of ideas. While there are many strategies for being a good boss and co-worker, try starting with this, says Currie: "Ask your employees to share what they think, before you provide your commentary. If you feel the urge to speak up first, ask the following question: 'I've got some thoughts on the topic, but first I want to hear from each of you. What do you think about ______?'" This will let your employees know how much you value their input, and opinions.

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