Are you a great manager?

Manager superheroTough question. While you may be experienced at assessing the performance of your employees, you probably spend less time judging your own.

Your business profits, though, depend on how well you carry out your responsibilities. That means exhibiting more than technical savvy: You must also fine tune the vital “people skills” that motivate your staff to overachieve and generate more sales.

Why not run your own self-assessment? Test yourself with the following quiz. Rate your performance from one to 10 (higher being better) on each of these 10 questions. Total your score. How close do you come to 100?

1. Do you challenge employees to set specific performance goals?
“Do better every year.” That’s a great motto for every employee. Too often, though, the tendency is less ambitious: Coast along. Settle for performance that’s good but not great.

“Employees tend to float to the status quo,” says John Tschohl, president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis and author of Moving Up. “The problem is that very few have any well-defined goals.”

It’s too easy to settle for hazy goals, such as “be a better salesperson” or “increase technical skills.” But that’s not good enough, Tschohl says. “Hazy goals produce hazy results.”

The solution? Work with employees to establish measurable objectives. “Make sure the goals are specific,” Tschohl says. Here’s an example: “Make 10 sales calls per day” is better than the more general statement of “Make more sales calls.”

Bonus tip: Set target dates for goals and assess results at follow-up performance reviews.

2. Do you coach employees to rebound from shortfalls?
Saying something is one thing. Doing something is another. The most dependable employee can miss an ambitious performance goal. Maybe the bar was set too high. More likely the person needs to take a different approach to the challenge.

That’s where you come in. Monitor each employee’s work practices and suggest new ways to reach performance goals. Then reset the target date and stay in communication.

But you need to take one more step: You also must help build your employees’ self-esteem.

“Employees need support,” Tschohl says. “Most have a lot of self-doubt and personal problems. So you want to be nurturing people to do a better job. And when you see people doing great things, you should give them recognition.”

Bonus tip: When recognizing an employee’s performance, don’t just state a general remark such as “good job.” Highlight how well the person performed specific work functions.

3. Do you communicate priorities and directions clearly?
To be followed and respected, you need to be understood. Make clear communications your goal. Express what you want from your employees in easily understood statements that can be translated into workplace expectations.
Clarity of communication will help employees stay on track toward achieving goals.

“Employees tend to become unfocused,” Tschohl says. “They get distracted and concentrate on one thing instead of another. A good manager will stay on top of people, coaching and reinforcing.”

Bonus tip: Ask your employees for feedback: Are they confused by anything you have said? Can you restate anything more clearly?

4. Do you encourage employees to contribute new ideas?
Sometimes owners and managers think they can “do it all” and fail to take advantage of—or even become aware of—surrounding talent. Other times, they’re reluctant to reach out, scared of giving up power or too focused on their ego to tap the skills latent in others.

Blocking the skills and ideas of employees can lead to the loss of the best talent.

“Creative, ambitious employees will leave the company to find other positions,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in St. Louis. “They want to enhance their own skills, and if they are not encouraged to do that they will seek other employment.”

Great managers pursue the gold hidden in every employee, Avdoian says. “Tapping the gifts and talents of the employees can make any business flourish.”

Bonus tip: Establish an awards system for the best ideas that contribute to business profit.

5. Do you take a personal interest in your employees?
Your employees are human beings with varied talents and needs, not cogs in the profit machine. Taking a genuine interest in their lives will foster loyalty and pay rich dividends. (See story on Page 32.)

“Discover the hidden talents of your employees and use them,” Avdoian says. “Employees who realize they are valued as people will be vested in giving back to the company. Even if those individuals need to leave someday because there is no spot for them to be promoted, they will be ambassadors for your business.”

Bonus tip: In job interviews, ask questions that uncover hidden talents—not just the specific skills required for available positions.

6. Do you delegate well?
Some managers are afraid of giving up power if they delegate. But good delegation is a way of leveraging the talents of others to enhance a manager’s reputation for performance.

“Delegating is not about giving away your responsibilities,” Avdoian says. “It’s about putting together all the pieces of the management puzzle. The bottom line is that the person at the helm needs to direct everyone.”

Bonus tip: Keep asking, “Who can I give this task to who is talented and who will help our team succeed?”

7. Do you resolve conflicts in a productive way?
“Many leaders try to resolve conflicts in a way that appeases everyone,” says Will Bowen, a productivity consultant in Kansas City, Mo. “But if we try to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one.”

Of course, when tackling a workplace problem, it’s fine to pursue an optimal solution. But don’t let the search become an endless journey.

Making a controversial call, though, can raise hackles. How can you keep the peace when establishing a position less attractive than what people want? “Make sure everyone knows that a lot of thought went into your decision,” Bowen says. “It was made for the highest good of the organization.”

Bonus tip: Announce controversial decisions at meetings scheduled for that purpose. Explain the reasoning behind your decisions.

8. Do you behave in a professional way at work?
“More than anything, people judge leaders by their bearing,” Bowen says. “Employees need someone like the captain of a ship, moving them through rough seas with solid bearing. They need to feel that person has the emotional maturity to warrant being their leader.”

Conversely, people tend to feel insecure with a manager who is easily rattled, Bowen says.

Leaders could do worse than recall three words drilled into people learning to fly a plane: aviate, navigate and communicate. Aviate involves flying the plane, navigate means figuring out the desired direction and communicate requires telling others where you are going, Bowen says.

Just don’t get the priorities mixed up.

“What most people do is start by communicating—running off at the mouth,” Bowen says. “Remember that first you need to fly the plane, doing the things that are most important. Then decide on the direction you want your organization to go. At that point, you are prepared to communicate your vision so people will follow.”

Bonus tip: Take a break if you come across a situation you can’t handle with equanimity. Get away from other people for a while and give yourself some time before you attempt to lead.

9. Do you listen well?
People want to be heard. When they see that you are listening, they feel empowered and will invest in your decisions.

Too often, managers do anything but listen. “So many times, we only seem to be listening to someone,” Bowen says. “Our mouths are shut and we are looking at the other person, but inside we are preparing what we will say next and judging what the other person says.”

Be willing to learn. Then you will listen closely. “Listening is an attitude, an openness,” Bowen says. “The best definition of listening that I have ever heard is ‘a willingness to be changed by what you hear.’ I love that. If you are unwilling to be changed, you are not listening.”

Bonus tip: Communicate your willingness to hear by responding to employee statements with productive questions.

10. Do you inspire your employees?
Your employees need to be skilled and knowledgeable. They also need to acquire another trait if your business is to outperform the competition: enthusiasm.

Enthusiastic employees sell more, please more customers and dream up better ways to boost profits. But just what makes employees enthusiastic? That’s where you come in.

“Most employees have a lot of self-doubt,” Tschohl says. “You have to make them feel good about themselves.”
Part of that is being specific about their achievements.

“Use positive feedback to inspire people,” Tschohl says. “Here’s an example of what you can say: ‘You have more ability than anyone else in this organization. You have more drive, more energy. I am counting on you.’”

Bonus tip: Inspire people by communicating how they will be an integral part of your business plan for the coming year.

The importance of people skills
Guidance. Communication. Inspiration. These elements all revolve around a key skill of great managers: The ability to get people to work together.

“There’s nothing more important than good people skills,” Bowen says. “They are the hardest thing to learn. Managers earn more money, not because they do more than workers, but because they are capable of getting more done.”

The manager’s self-assessment quiz
How good are your people skills? Find out by taking the following self-assessment quiz. Grade yourself on each of these 10 areas. For guidance, read the corresponding section of the cover story that accompanies this box. Total your score—see how close to 100 you can score. Then get to work on those areas that need improvement and watch your bottom line soar.

■ “I challenge employees to set specific performance goals.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I coach employees to rebound from performance shortfalls.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I communicate my priorities and directions clearly.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I encourage employees to contribute new ideas.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I take a personal interest in employees.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I delegate well.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I resolve conflicts in a productive way.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I behave in a professional manner at work.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I listen well.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

■ “I inspire my employees.”
Never: 0 Seldom: 4 Often: 8 Regularly: 10

There’s more. Next section: “3 rules for managing the whole employee” by Marty Martin.

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