9 to 5 Culture, Business Tips

How to Be a Great Manager That People Actually Like

He is being passive-aggressive again. He is angry but will not talk with you about it. He struts into a quiet room and closes the door, refusing to take calls. No, this is not your husband. It’s the big man upstairs who you also have to put up with every day at work. But his life isn’t all that easy.

Yes, this is my inevitable “defend the boss” entry, coming almost six years after I first started writing articles for The Great Office Escape. Many of you come to this site to find support and understanding in dealing with a terrible manager or a nasty co-worker. After all, being the company whipping-boy for your foul-tempered slave-driver is certainly not an enviable position.

But it is also important to remember that not only does your boss work hard, but he dances a strange and delicate waltz of keeping the company functioning while managing the varying personalities and abilities of his subordinates.

It isn’t easy to walk this line. Trust me. As the owner of two web design and development companies I have been in a position of authority for a few years now, managing freelance web contractors and student-intern types usually with little more than a Skype call a month for “face to face” interactions.

Still, I’m very convinced that the people who work for me actually love working for me, and they get the work done effectively (most of them time!) So how do I do it?

Being a Great Manager Involves:

1. Trusting your employees and contractors

This is the trait that divides good managers from horrendous ones. Pestering your employees and micro-managing them is seriously never a good thing. Checking in every three hours to make sure that your administrative assistant is going to get all the cold calls on the list done by Friday is likely to do two things:

A. Make your administrative assistant angry with you
B. Make your administrative assistant less likely to go to you if they have a question or issue.

Situation A is bad enough. But how can you be running an effective enterprise if the person responsible for cold-calling your customers (I sure hope you don’t run a business this way, but that’s another story) refuses to ask you a potentially important question because, well, they don’t like you and/or are afraid of you?

Think about it.

A good manager will set a deadline and then trust the expertise of those who work for him. He will leave his subordinates alone to work but be open to questions and feedback.

When I give one of my developers a project I tell them the deadline up-front and ask them if they can meet this deadline. If they feel they cannot meet this deadline they will let me know up front. They respect me because I am clear with them from the outset. I will occasionally check with them to see how they are doing, but this is more to see if they have questions and sometimes make small-talk than anything else.

2. Being Even-Keeled

Nobody likes an unpredictable person with a volatile temper. This situation becomes far worse at work, where an angry manager can put an entire team on edge and affect company performance on a larger scale with one outburst.

If you are having a very bad day, are feeling like you are ready to explode and you are in charge of many people at the office who all have important projects, take the damn day off. Your presence will more than likely just make things worse and you will likely not get much done yourself. Or, if you can’t take the day off lock yourself in your office, get a punching bag, silly putty or anything you can use to take out your frustrations. Don’t scream at Peg, the secretary.

An even-keeled manager engenders trust, respect and is someone that clients will grow to trust over time. A human volcano in the office will just illicit fear, misery and destroy productivity.

3. Setting Realistic Deadlines

It is not fair for a manager to expect that his or her subordinates are going to be able to so something faster than is realistic. This can be a surprisingly difficult thing for a good manager to predict, and trouble often arises when a manager is unfamiliar with the type of work being asked.

When I send my first web development project out for a large site that involved a lot of database work I assumed that two weeks would be enough time for a good SQL developer to finish the work. When I asked for a date estimate of a few potential freelancers I could see that I vastly underestimated the amount of work that went into that kind of project, and I had also made the mistake of giving my client a two week estimate.

In an office setting keeping the scope of projects you assign to your subordinates in mind is very important. Why should they have to stay in the office until 8pm every night of the week while you go home at 4? You should be very careful about making sure your team can handle the work with enough time to complete it comfortably during regular office hours. I don’t care what Bill Lumbergh says. You should not expect your software guys to come in on Sunday because you “lost a few people”.

Every now and then it is ok to expect some extra hours but it should never be a habit. If you are finding pressure from above to get a huge number of projects done and your team is staying late all the time to finish the work, you need to talk with your own “higher-up” and bring the issue to light, because the situation will turn on you and soon YOU will be the one in the hot-seat working late hours to save your reputation and your job because you didn’t get the work done.

What a Bad Manager Looks Like

Percy comes into his office an hour after his software team does and sits at his desk, eating pork rinds with the door open. He gets a call from his vendor from another company in Tennessee and yells at him for a half hour for not getting the shipments to his team in time. Then he calls an “emergency” closed-door meeting for his entire software team.

Spittle flies and nostrils flare as Percy yells at his team for an hour over why they have fallen behind on processing the orders for the shipments even though it was Percy’s fault for not ordering the supplies for the correct date. Cowering in fear, his software team leaves and vows to stay late to catch up on the work.

Percy has covered his back, as he can always blame his team or his vendor for finishing the shipments late. He then checks in with them seven times throughout the afternoon, telling them they need to come in on Saturday to finish the work by Monday, even though his team has actually pulled ahead and looks like they will get everything done by the end of the week. On the way out of the office he knocks a plant off a shelf on purpose.

You get the idea. Don’t be Percy.

Being a Manager/Boss/Team Leader is not Easy

There are a lot of complicated relationships and decisions that need to be made as a manager. The next time your boss is having a tough day and they take it out on you, remember – 9 times out of 10 it isn’t a personal vendetta. I know it can be painful. But if it is really happening a lot and you are at the end of your rope with your boss, well, look around this site for ideas on how to escape 😉


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