Management Skills

Leading a team is every kid’s dream. Who doesn’t want to be the hero that slays the enemy, gets the gold, and ultimately leads their people to success? But, the reality of leadership isn’t like the movies—it’s a lot more complicated.

Each team member has a different communication style, and brings a unique skill set to the table. The company has tons of different goals, and it’s hard to prioritize what needs to get done, and who needs to do it.

In order to be an effective leader, you need more than a good attitude and a little kid’s dream. You need good management skills. Here’s my comprehensive list of skills that you’ll need to thrive as a manager:

1. Vision

Where is your company going? What about your team? How do you harmonize the team with the company’s goals? Leaders often have the best intentions, but they get caught up in day-to-day management, putting out fires instead of working to unite their people under a shared vision.

Lack of direction leaves team members feeling confused about purpose. They know they’re working hard, but it’s difficult for them to see their impact. They don’t know which initiatives to prioritize. As a leader, you not only need a clear vision, but you also need to communicate it well.

How to get it:

If you’re struggling to create and communicate your longterm vision, step back and think about what that vision is. If you’re in middle management, meet with the people above you to help you understand big picture goals. If you’re on top, step back and write down a plan. Too many leaders fly by the seat of their pants without assessing goals on monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.

2. Effective Communication

Communication is a dirty word. It gets thrown around by people who are unsure of what it really means. At its core, communication is about expressing yourself so that the things you think and the things you say are closely aligned. Communication is the keystone of effective leadership. You need to communicate:

  • Priorities
  • Long term goals
  • Gratitude
  • Strategy and executional information

How to get it:

If you feel like you’re not a great communicator, try putting things in writing. Plan what you’re going to say before a meeting– don’t just wing it.

3. Organization

When we think about being organized, we envision a clean workspace and color-coded post it notes, but organization extends to executional items such as project timelines. Organization is easy for some, impossible for others. Thankfully, there are tools available to help all of us–Gannt charts, excel spreadsheets, project management software (such as Trello and Teamwork) are just a few options.

How to get it:

Struggling to keep things together? Papers flying everywhere? Email inbox overloaded? Sit down with someone who is organized and have them help you set up systems. Once you have systems in place, you’ll be better able to stay organized and keep your team on the same page.

4. Functional Skills

It’s hard to respect management who can’t get stuff done. Someone who can’t “do” is problematic– it’s like having a ship captain who never learned how to sail. If a leader doesn’t have the skillset to understand the industry, and the ability to make things happen, they’re probably not a great leader. This doesn’t mean that leaders need to be knee deep in the nitty-gritty– instead, they need to effectively delegate and create timelines to ensure that goals are met on time and with quality results.

How to get it:

Take a class on leadership and management, or other courses that focus on the functional skills you lack. Find a good, in-person class in your region that focuses on skills such as delegation, difficult conversation, and project timelines. I recommend General Assembly.

5. Confidence

You’re the boss, so you can’t let yourself get used by your staff. Confidence is not just a trait– it’s also a practiced skill. Confidence comes from knowing yourself well. If you understand your strengths, you can leverage them for success. You can be transparent with your team when it comes to your weaknesses, asking for help so you can move along.

How to get it:

Take a personality test. I love Myers-Briggs and DISC assessments. These will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses in an objective way. I also recommend doing things outside your comfort zone. If you’re a quiet person, take an improv class. If you’re loud, meditate.

6. Fairness

Nothing frustrates employees more than blatant favoritism. Sure, there will be members of your team that you like more than others, but expressing your true feelings is poison to a team who has to come together. Favoritism is juvenile, and it can poison a team. It’s a dagger into comradery– so don’t pick favorites!

How to get it:

If you really favor some team members more than others, you need to create boundaries to put your professionalism in check. When you go out to lunch, invite everyone, not just the guy whose jokes you like. As a manager, you need to make professional friends and contacts, not BFFs.

7. Respect

Being a good leader doesn’t mean getting everyone to unanimously nod their heads every time you open your mouth. Disagreements are inevitable, but a good leader can treat others with respect and kindness, no matter the situation. Ask your reports why they think what they think. Respect their opinions, even if you vehemently disagree. If they do something serious that needs to be addressed, talk to them like they are adults instead of cornering and lecturing them.

How to get it:

This one’s tough, because we can’t help but be hot-headed sometimes. If you feel yourself getting angry in a meeting, take a deep breath, walk out the door, and take a break. Time will calm you down so that when you do discuss hot button issues, you can do so with respect.

8. Adaptability

Change is the only constant in our lives, and teams look to their leaders when the seas get stormy and the caves get dark. As a leader, you have to adapt. You can’t be the one acting like an ostrich, head in the ground, unwilling to accept the changes. The best leader take changes in stride, thriving in transition.

How to get it:

When changes come, force yourself to be optimistic, even if you’re worried. Connect with the right people, but honest about your skepticism, and be ready to change how you go about things. When someone suggests leading meetings in a new way, don’t balk. Carefully consider why you feel the way you do, and be open-minded about a new way of doing things.

9. Ability to Think Strategically

It’s frustrating to work at a place where the leaders take on itty bitty projects without a lot of strategy. They talk to us off the cuff, without thinking about how they come off. We look to leaders for guidance on everything, and when we feel that they’re not being deliberate, we panic. Basically, people want to see that you can pull through. How are you going to do what you’ve said you will do? You must be able to think and act strategically in order to be successful as a leader.

How to get it:

According to the Harvard Business Review, people lack strategy because they’re not taking the time to reflect. Build strategic time into your work day. You need time to reflect on situations so that you can connect ideas together to show your team you can make things happen.

10. Team Orientation

Yes, you’re a leader, but you’re also a team member. You are not Michael Jordan– you are the leader of the Chicago Bulls. You have to think like a team member, and always put the team before your own needs. Sometimes that means taking flack for a team member’s mistakes, or going to bat when a report asks for a promotion or more compensation.

How to get it:

Think of yourself as a team member before thinking of yourself as a leader. Be willing to do things you dislike for the sake of the team. Never act like you’re better than your team members just because you’re in a position of power.

11. Navigation of Difficult Conversations

Stressful conversations are inevitable. Laying someone off, talking about an an issue that came up in the office, or critiquing bad performance—all these cause a lot of stress. Leaders are good at having these conversations. They can speak with grace, ask for input, and make people feel like they’re safe, even when the content is difficult.

How to get it:

Read Taking The Stress Out of Stressful Conversations by Holly Weeks from Harvard Business School. Holly outlines how to navigate the stormy territory of tough talk.

Being a manager is hard– there are so many skills you need to be successful. Thankfully, with a little bit of elbow grease, you’ll be able to work on these skills to become the best leader in your organization.