Three skills managers need to become leaders

With the pandemic shining a spotlight on the importance of good leadership, Culture amp highlights the three skills needed for people management

Three skills managers need to become leaders

2020 has proved just how much emotional intelligence and soft skills matter in the modern workplace. During the pandemic, managers had to lead with empathy and vulnerability to successfully support their team through constant change and the seemingly endless stream of political, social, and public health crises. These soft skills were, and still are, essential for overcoming uncertainty, and they’re at the heart of being a great leader, as are these three skills.

Strategic thinking

When senior leaders were asked what they most wanted their managers to improve upon, their number one request was strategic thinking. Managers who have mastered strategic thinking can make better decisions in the face of uncertainty and work with their teams to set goals and develop plans to achieve them.

Tips for managers:

  • Add structure using gap analysis. Great managers help their teams think in concrete, measurable ways, even when things don’t seem measurable. Gap analysis asks managers and their teams to put a number to a vague concept.
  • Avoid ‘red flag’ strategic thinking mistakes by setting the ‘strategic context’. Strategic thinking can mean different things to different teams, so it’s crucial for managers to define their ‘strategic context’ clearly.
One-to-ones are at the centre of the manager-employee relationship. Usually held weekly or bi-weekly, they help build connections, establish alignment across company initiatives, and remove stumbling blocks so employees can grow. 
When done right, these meetings can dramatically improve performance, drive development, build trust, and increase team agility. 

Tips for managers:
  • Boost engagement by asking CAMPS questions during one-to-ones. CAMPS stands for certainty, autonomy, meaning, progress, and social inclusion. These five factors have been identified by LifeLabs Learning as a “brain craving” that direct reports seek. Managers can leverage one-to-ones to fulfill their team members’ different “brain cravings” by asking the right questions.

When we interviewed senior leaders, the second most requested soft skill for managers was productivity. With better productivity skills, managers can learn to manage their workload and energy levels better to maximise output, quality delivery and wellbeing for themselves and their teams. Furthermore, managers who have effectively mastered productivity challenges can model and encourage better productivity habits among their teams and direct reports.

Tips for managers:
  • Build time awareness by using precise time language. Managers can avoid misunderstandings and show respect for their teams’ time by using precise time language. For example, instead of saying, ‘shall we move onto the last item on the agenda’, managers can say, ‘in our last 10 minutes, shall we move onto the last item on the agenda?’
  • Use the MIT method for prioritisation. Using the MIT method, managers write down their three most important tasks at the beginning or end of the day. By clearly identifying the three highest-priority tasks for the day, managers can stay disciplined, focus on what’s most important, and more easily say no to requests that would distract from their main priorities.
  • Improve organisational skills with a consistent capture system (CCS). A CCS is a reliable, go-to place to record important information (e.g. to-do items) instead of storing it in one’s memory. Managers should choose a single CCS tool and embed it in their team’s culture. Recording information in a single, reliable place frees up the minds of managers and their teams, empowering them to focus on solving problems and coming up with new ideas.
  • Improve focus with the Pomodoro technique. Research shows that knowledge workers are typically interrupted every 12 minutes. The Pomodoro technique trains managers to fight distractions by establishing strict periods (usually 25 minutes) of high-focus work. After 25 minutes pass, users must take a mandatory five-minute break. If the user is interrupted (or they interrupt themselves), they have to start over

Download this toolkit and find out more about empowering managers with the skills they need to develop themselves as leaders.