Learning to be a great manager on the job

September 22, 2021
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To be an excellent people manager, we need to lead on many levels.

  • We need to lead individuals: to have a one to one conversation that unlocks the potential of a person in our team.
  • We need to be able to lead the team as a unit: to make the team more than the sum of its parts.
  • Perhaps hardest of all we need to manage ourselves: manage our emotions, maintain our resilience.

Most of us are doing this in really dynamic and fluid circumstances. We have increasingly diverse, often remote teams. Teams may be forming and disbanding pretty fast. We are being asked to manage in a new world that few of us were trained or prepared for. It’s not easy. But it can be made easier.

The journey

The journey to develop as a manager isn’t clear and simple. Sadly, there’s no one simple approach that all managers can follow to ensure their teams perform at their best. The route you take will depend on the type of team you are in, your current circumstances.

The roadmap looks more like a rollercoaster than a straight road.

Expectation vs reality

However, there are some practices and routines, some habits and techniques that will significantly increase your chances of nailing it. Just as lots of practice made the Beatles stars. Just as commitment made Michale Jordan a winner. Or as Macklemore says in his song 10,000 hours,

"the great's aren't great because at birth they could paint. The great's are great because they paint a lot."

1. Know thyself

People who see themselves clearly are better performers, according to research:

  • They’re more promotable and make better leaders
  • They’re better communicators and influencers
  • They have stronger relationships

Research also shows that when people are in doubt about what behaviour is appropriate, they copy others—particularly those who have power and status. (This is why the best leaders model the behaviors that they want to see in return). So self-aware managers make for a self-aware team; one that keeps emotions in check, shows curiosity towards others and plays to their strengths.

A couple of ways to get to know yourself a bit better:

1. Use a profiling tool

Personality and values surveys are a great way to kick-off some self-reflection. If you’ve got a Saberr Base account, you can use that, or there are quiz-style tools online like this personality quiz from FiveThirtyEight news.

2. Complete a personal profile

Answering the questions in a personal profile (below) is a great way to reflect on who you are and how you work with others. If you’ve already completed a personality survey, it can help you complete your profile.

You’re not a finished piece and neither is your personal profile! It should always be a work in progress.

3. Gather feedback

Develop an appreciation and an understanding for how other people see us. This is best developed through regular, open feedback. Asking those we work with and our friends and family. Schedule a one-to-one with someone who knows you well and ask them to describe you at your best, your worst and what they want you to bring to the team.

2. Master the One-to-one

The one-to-one is a key building block of great management. It’s the equivalent of tomato sauce in Italian cooking – universal used. But it’s easy to under-estimate how hard it is to get it just right.

Research indicates when a manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all, or neglects to provide employees are four times as likely to be disengaged. Some of the obvious benefits include:

  • Setting and following up on goals or personal projects and reviewing progress
  • Staying aligned
  • Coaching team members and and developing skills and capability
  • Having scheduled time to catch up; thereby avoiding interruptions that reduce flow of work

3. Leading a team

Managing individuals in a team and leading a team are two different things. To use a sporting analogy, it’s the difference between coaching each member of a football team and coaching the team as a whole.

To get a team performing at the top of it’s game you need to do both.

  • You need to get the best of of each individual
  • You need to get the team performing as a unit – more than the sum of its parts

What are the key elements of leading a team? There’s no quick answer but we’ve developed a model that is simple to understand and powerful in its application.

The 3 Gets Model condenses a vast body of research and scientific literature into a simple framework to help every leader evaluate where they need to focus to help their team perform at the top of their game.

The 3 Gets are the three phases in developing a team:

  • Get Set: Is the team agreed on and aligned behind the proven fundamentals of team success?
  • Get Safe: Has the team created a safe learning environment where team members can be honest and say how they feel?
  • Get Strong: Does the team leverage high levels of safety to form strong and collaborative relationships defined by constructive and assertive (not aggressive) interactions?

The benefits

For those of you who have been managers for years, there's real benefit to brushing up on the basics and reflecting on how your current practice could be improved.

For those of you who are new to leading teams, following the steps above will give you the skills to become a strong leader of people — one of the most useful skills that you can learn — in your community, at home and at work.

There are many benefits for your team too.

  • Team productivity will increase as the team works better together. You’ll be able to report more success at the end of the quarter
  • Your team will be more engaged, as you learn how to best support them.
  • You’ll win back some time. People in the team will start to take more responsibility – leaving you more time to focus on other important things or maybe just have some time to think...

Despite knowing what to do and how to do it, it can still be hard to actually end up doing it. Which is why we introduced 'Courses' to Saberr

Check it out:


Get Your Manager's Guide to Building High-Performing Teams

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