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How to Be a Great Business Leader and Cherished Manager at the Same Time

Most managers know a good boss when they see one–but they don’t do what it takes to become one.

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BY Martin Zwilling - 07 Aug 2018

How to Be a Great Business Leader and Cherished Manager at the Same Time

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Every business executive and entrepreneur I know believes they are a good or even a great leader, but as an adviser I often hear a different story from their team.

You probably have a few stories of your own about a least-favorite boss who was always too busy to listen, gave nothing but critical feedback, was prone to emotional outbursts, or simply was not really present in body and spirit. I hear about many more bosses who try to do all the right things, but just don't seem to be the role model for leadership you crave, or be someone you would want to emulate.

I'm not convinced that anyone has to be born with a special set of genes to be recognized as a memorable leader. In fact, all managers and people in leadership positions just need to focus their efforts on their people--instead of on themselves--to get respect.

Based on my experience, there are a few key people practices that can put you in the "superboss" category:

1. Provide personal growth assistance beyond training programs.

Help your employees build their individual strengths with customized coaching and special assignments. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and most of us as managers focus only on weaknesses. Be one of the few who highlight strengths with feedback, recognition, and new opportunities.

In one of my own stints as an executive in IBM, I found that putting a high-potential employee on my own staff for a few weeks was highly motivating and taught me the realities of senior management responsibilities better than any class could.

2. Inspire team members to set and achieve personal goals.

Spend more of your time on personal as well as team communication, instilling confidence in people to set work goals that are consistent with their personal aspirations. Then provide the feedback, assistance, and rewards required to make these a win-win proposition for both you and them.

For example, early in my career when I was seeking to increase my visibility, I had a great boss who asked me to lead an "extra credit" programming project that tested my ability, but ultimately gave me a huge boost with executives outside my area.

3. Actively seek new opportunities for good employees.

This may seem counterintuitive to many of you who fear losing their best employees, since there never seems to be enough time to focus on recruiting and mentoring new talent. You may not realize that great employees will leave anyway, leaving only the least productive members.

It's better to give exceptional team members a new opportunity than to wait for them to look elsewhere or be stolen by a competitor. Richard Branson was quick to allow one of his own employees take the lead with a new venture in Australia, even though it meant losing him on the home team.

4. Make the task fit the person, rather than the person fit the task.

This is another aspect of capitalizing on strengths and satisfaction. In today's rapidly changing market, it makes sense to let people find innovative ways to use their talent to help your business, rather than forcing them to do things the way they have always been done.

5. Recognize depth of relationships as well as skill depth.

In business, very little gets done by one person alone, so good connections and team building are critical to personal growth and success.

You need to understand the cohort effect (experiences shared by a group), and mentor individual team members on how to initiate, manage, and utilize key relationships. I found in my career that an employee who knew how to work with other organizations could get twice as much done as a regular hardworking team member.

6. Push people to rise to a challenge outside their qualifications.

People are generally capable of much more than they will attempt by default, and you need to look for signals to amplify that can lead to a win-win challenge. Formal qualifications should never be used as the limit of what you can expect from highly motivated team members.

7. Be willing to create a position for exceptional new talent.

You must always be on the lookout for new talent through networking, browsing social media, or acting as a university liaison.

Don't wait for openings on your team, and don't be afraid to create a new position to take advantage of special talent. I found it was good to periodically shake up the organization with a new person in a new role. It make everyone more ready to think outside the box.

These days, you need regular change in any organization to maintain a level of innovation and creativity. What could be more satisfying than to be a cherished manager and lead a successful business?

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