5 Ways to be a Better Manager in 5 Minutes or Less

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Being a manager is tough. You're constantly in meetings, putting out fires, and dealing with people and projects competing for your attention.  As you become more reactive to these things, it becomes harder to do the things you know you should do.

Often, it's small, meaningful gestures that have the greatest impact. Think about how much more you appreciated the small, thoughtful gift as opposed to a check, or how a hand written thank you note made you feel.

As a manager, you have the opportunity every day to make your team members have those feelings.  In the time it takes you to read this post, you can bring joy to and inspire your team. I hope you'll try at least one of them today and see what kind of reaction you get. If you have a good story, share it in the comments!

How to be a Better Manager in 5 Minutes or Less

1) Learn the names of the most important people in their lives

Poet John Donne famously wrote, "No man is an island."  Your employees are not islands, either. They have connections outside work that make them uniquely who they are.  For some that's a husband or wife and children. For others it's a girlfriend or some great friends and roommates. Taking the time to know them by name to ask about them from time to time or to greet them by name if they are visiting the office will score you major points.

When you learn the names of those people that matter most to them, you show you care about them as a complete person. This builds rapport that will help you with difficult discussions with them and make them trust you more as their manager, especially if they're having a personal issue affecting their work.

The Better Manager 5 Minute Action: Quickly make note of how many people on your team you know the names of the most important people in their lives. Use your next one on one to fill in any gaps.

2) Learn what their "resentment" is

One of the greatest risks for some of your best people on your team is burnout. While there are many causes of burnout, one of the easiest things you can do to prevent burnout comes from Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo:

"I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you're resentful of your work.

I had a young guy, just out of college, and I saw some early burnout signs. I said, "Think about it and tell me what your rhythm is.” He came back and said, "Tuesday night dinners. My friends from college, we all get together every Tuesday night and do a potluck. If I miss it, the whole rest of the week I'm like, ‘I'm just not going to stay late tonight. I didn't even get to do my Tuesday night dinner.' ” So now we know that Nathan can never miss Tuesday night dinner again."

For some people, that may be getting home in time for dinner with their family. For my father, he never missed my track meets in high school (that meant a lot to me).  For me today, it's making sure I play soccer on Wednesday nights with my team.  I need that competitive release on a field and love the camaraderie I feel with my teammates.  It will vary for everyone, and maybe even change over time, but knowing what it is prevents you from upsetting them.

The Better Manager 5 Minute Action: In your next set of one on ones, ask your team members what they like to do each week that is really important to them or makes it a good week. Treat it as sacred. Never ask them to miss it, even if that means they need to be online later afterwards, or you need to ask others to cover. Doing so will not go unnoticed by your team, especially when you do it for everyone.

image 2 Better manager

3) Always make your one on ones actionable

It's good to talk about issues and what's on your team member's mind in one on ones, but that alone does not accomplish much. Every one on one should be actionable.

Take what's discussed and identify what both of you can do to make progress on the issues. Maybe it's buying them a good book on a subject they want to learn about. Or it could be giving them advice on how to handle a situation and having them try it and report back the results next time. Whatever it is, setting action items and discussing what the results were next time creates a very gratifying feeling of progress by small wins that engages and motivates team members.

The Better Manager 5 Minute Action: Don't end your one on ones without setting action items for both of you. Email them to your team member and go over them in your next one on one to highlight progress and ensure you both follow through.

4) Do 1 thing to help them achieve their long term goals

When the work that you're doing is aligned with your long term goals and what you want to achieve, you are most motivated and excited.  It's easy to get bogged down in day to day duties and lose sight of that progress. Don't think that just because someone's goals aren't aligned with their work that you as their manager cannot help them.

Often times, employees want to learn about new areas of the business, or add a new skill that would open up new career opportunities. This is where you have a chance to shine. Give them even a little bit of help achieving those goals outside their day to day work and watch their excitement and commitment grow.

I once had a team member doing business development and sales, but she really wanted to get into product management. We didn't have any projects for her in that area and really needed her help in BD. So instead, I spent 1 hour a month talking to her about anything she wanted to know about product management and occasionally bought her good books on product management. Her productivity and passion for her BD work skyrocketed despite only a modest time and financial investment in her passion for product management.

The Better Manager 5 Minute Action: Surprise a team member with a book on a subject they wanted to learn about, offer to pay to send them to a conference they'd be interested in, or introduce them to a mentor that could help them. The more thoughtful you make it, the more they'll smile and work hard for you.

5) Praise each team member for 1 thing they have done well

Praise is fuel for the engine of great work by your team. Give them specific praise on something they did well and you will see more of it. Fail to recognize their efforts and they will diminish with each cycle of work.

Research reported at the Harvard Business Review showed that the highest performing teams had a ratio of nearly 6 positive comments to every 1 negative one:

The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, Heaphy and Losada found, was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments that the participants made to one another...The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6. The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9. But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

If you want to see more great work from people and better attitudes, praise is the key. Consistently giving the praise ensures your ratio relative to criticism stays high.

The Better Manager 5 Minute Action: Email each person you manage with praise for 1 thing you really like that they do, or walk over and tell them. The more specific and unsung the thing you praise the more they'll light up and appreciate the recognition.


So what are you waiting for? Go take a quick action to make your team happier and more productive! Let us know in the comments any small acts you've found that work with your team.

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Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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