The 5 Rules of Highly Effective Managers
As a manager, how do you increase your team’s output without crushing it under a mountain of work? How do you scale results without scaling investments?
The simplest way is to increase your own effectiveness as a manager and leader. This means doing more of the right things than doing more things right. Such a mindset also flows down to your team and yields outsized results in the long-term.
Based on my own experience as a senior editor at a large publication and my interactions with dozens of managers as a management consultant, I’ve listed 7 “rules” below. This is a return-to-basics call, a cheat sheet for consistent effectiveness — or doubling of it — in three months or less.
1. Finding quick answers by yourself — Redundant questions only waste time
If you’re looking for a quick answer, it’s easy to pose the question to team members. But is it good for you and them? Not necessarily.
Managers’ desire for immediate answers forces people to drop whatever they’re doing. It might take them just a few minutes to find and share the answers, but it also affects their effectiveness for two reasons: First, their already-clogged work pipelines get choked further with unnecessary tasks. Second, this multitasking reduces their productivity and focus since it takes up to 25 minutes for our focus to return to the levels before we got distracted.
Effective managers don’t make life easier just for themselves, they also make it easier for their teams to focus on the important tasks. One way to do this is to find easy answers by yourself instead of delegating the task to your team. You can deep-dive into those answers to discover the underlying reasons for yourself and compare your observations with others.
2. Asking questions to learn — Mere inspection gets you nowhere
Deep-diving into reports alone isn’t enough to understand why events occur. Data helps you understand what happens, but to understand the real reasons behind them, you need to ask the right questions.
Many managers look at the data and ask questions to inspect: “Why haven’t you met your targets for the last two months? Why isn’t the process I mandated being followed? This is unacceptable.” But effective managers pose questions to learn: “What challenges are you facing face with your targets? How can we address them?”
As a leader, your role is not to have all the answers, it’s to help people find answers for themselves. This makes them feel involved, pursue team goals with vigor, and contribute in meaningful ways.
3. Making specific asks — vague instructions lead to rework
Plenty of managers give vague instructions when asking for information because they assume people will intuitively know what they want. This is like expecting your date to know which restaurant you want to go to on the second meeting.
Lack of specificity in your requests will lead to people giving you what they think you want. Such vague communication also becomes a part of your team’s culture, often leading to rework and wasting everyone’s time.
To be effective as a manager, be specific in your requests. If you want website traffic reports for the last few months, specify which months. Add context so recipients can understand your intent, give you the right information, and probably also share information you may not originally have thought of.
If people give you incorrect or incomplete information, follow up until you get what you need. Repeat yourself if needed. This might seem counterproductive in the short term, but it helps people understand you, align with your goals, and streamline their own thoughts better in the long term.
Specificity empowers people and speeds up action. For a manager, facilitating both these aspects is crucial.
Of course, managers could go into micro-detail and dish out instruct at each step, which is as ineffective as vagueness. Knowing when to speak and when to keep quiet is a tightrope that effective managers learn to walk with practice.
4. Focus on One Thing — Embrace the 80/20 Rule
Most workplaces revere action over thought. In pursuit of immediate results, managers change tactics at the drop of a hat and hope that each new action, program, or fad will lead them to salvation.
But such a way of working is, as Warren Buffet said, similar to trying to produce a baby in one month by making nine women pregnant. Results take time, patience, and consistency to become visible.
Effective managers follow the 80/20 Rule, which states that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of actions. They identify the 20 percent reasons for 80 percent of the problems, or the 20 percent actions that are yielding (or could yield) 80 percent of the results, and implement processes for the team to follow through on them with discipline.
Sticking to a handful of tasks sounds boring, but effective managers stay the course. Over time, people understand the significance of those actions. As LinkedIn co-founder Jeff Weiner said, “When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.”
Busyness is not a badge of honor; it’s a sign of laziness — of lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. It takes more effort to execute a strategy, particularly when results don’t become visible quickly; but it also pays off handsomely in the future.
5. Thinking Actions Through — Save time by avoiding what’s futile
The penchant for action also tempts managers to create tasks despite being fully aware that they’re futile because “there’s no harm.” But every futile task harms the team and organization in two ways.
The first is resources. When five people spend an hour each on a futile task, their hourly wages added up is how much money the company lost.
Second, when you constantly do useless work, you never get around to working on important tasks that are not being done. You run in circles instead of moving forward.
Effective managers run every decision through mental simulations in advance to gauge their impact. They execute or assign the decisions that offer high results while deferring or ignoring the rest.
A bigger sign of courage than running into the fire without thinking twice is to think twice and identify the right fire everyone should focus on.
“Management is largely by example,” Peter Drucker wrote. Managers who make themselves effective in their own job set the right example for their team.
The five steps effective leaders follow are:
- Finding quick answers by themselves rather than asking people for answers that can be found quickly and increasing their work just to make their own lives easier.
- Asking questions to understand the reasons behind events rather than imposing their demands on others.
- Offering specific instructions rather than vague ones that cause rework and waste everyone’s time.
- Focusing on the few important decisions that lead to exponential results or prevent most of the problems.
- Running their decisions through mental simulations in advance to identify and defer or ignore futile tasks.
This helps them focus more on results than costs or quantity of work.
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