Career Management

I’m doing a quick 5-part snapshot of strong management techniques, for any management professionals looking for techniques to stabilise their teams and build on their successes.

Part 1 – Management techniques for an engaged team:

One size does not fit all:

When working in a team environment, many managers reasonably assume that treating people differently is a bad thing, and showing favouritism, bias or nepotism is never going to help – in those regards, it certainly is.

However some of the best managers I have come across are those who have been able to understand how individuals like to be managed, and what type of approach they respond to above others. The most successful managers I have seen in my career have been able to adapt their style to suit individuals within the team, whist managing the team as a whole to achieve a common goal. This is quite a balancing act, as people will require different approaches, the truth of the situation is that everyone has different personalities, and the more discussion that connects with each person the better.

Acknowledging limitations while building on strengths:

The key to being a successful manager is a combination of understanding those who work with you and understanding yourself. I have said in previous blogs how there is too much negative focus placed on people’s weaknesses or limitations, but it is nonetheless important to know what they are, and to acknowledge them. Some of the best leaders in history have not been well-rounded, and this does not mean you are any less of a leader, paradoxically it is more important to be very good at a few specific things, that suit your given area, than trying to be good at everything. There simply isn’t time to build a specialisation in everything, and those who try often risk lacking depth. Knowing your limitations will allow you to find and recognise in others the potential strengths that you may be lacking, and surrounding yourself with those skills not inherently found in yourself will give you a strong team. It is important to celebrate the strengths of the people who work for you and allow them to further build on those natural abilities.

Don’t judge:

It is easier said than done, but a fundamental part of developing individuals and making improvements is to remain open-minded about their behaviour or the causes behind certain actions. It is often easier to assume you have understood a person’s motivations based on past experience of their character, but in a work situation where you are encouraging them to make changes it is important that you give them a second chance in explaining their actions before you assume you know what has occurred, or you could lose them when they were actually on-board. If you are someone who normally reacts quickly to situations, it is especially important not to react at all. Time will allow you to consider other avenues, and you simply have to give people the belief that you will see them change. If you are usually the type of person who doesn’t openly react, you might have the opposite issue where a person may not realise the  seriousness of their actions and it is imperative to explain these at a time when things are going well (rather than at a time of conflict) and ensure they understand they must make the changes required.

Part 2 – Define your management style:

Speaking broadly, I think most managers fall into four approximate categories. The key to successful management lies in a combination of good understanding both of yourself, and those who work for you. The four categories are:

1) The Authoritative Boss:

  • Key Characteristics: Strong management style, able to influence to a high level, managing through concern to achieve results. This manager is able to push their staff to new levels and they find their teams deliver best when they are managing them very closely and reporting to them frequently. Many managers in this category feel this is the only way to achieve consistent results, although they can push too far at times. They tend to be very good at delivering short-term results but in the long term can have complications building solid teams as they create very competitive environments.

They are more often found in firms with classical heavy hierarchies, or sometimes within owner-managed businesses. This can be any kind of SME business (within asset management  – family offices, private equity funds, hedge funds, or small law firms). Structures where the majority of decisions are taken at higher levels with little team communication. The manager maintains the team through occasional praise, although this is not consistent and team members are left trying to please. Often such managers have been trained in this way and assume this is the right way to keep on going, and they do work well, especially in more transactional environments, where dealings are at a higher-volume, with shorter-term involvement. Typically team members are more junior, so for example, would probably be successful managing a team within a Transfer Agency environment due to their focus on urgency and results.

2) The Analytical Activator:

  • Key Characteristics: This is the lead by example management style where the manager is leading the way in setting expectations and standards. Work is organised according to tasks, priorities and assigning these to team members, then overseeing them through to completion. These managers are typically well-organised, with good concepts of time and priority. Such managers are very good at overseeing complex projects where there are several different ongoing requirements that need to be juggled, but at times they can become very ‘hands-on’ and take on too much. This type of manager is well suited to a Programme or Project Management role, or a position that requires a strong operational component, such as Risk & Compliance, where needs can be analysed first, and then delegated to appropriate team member(s). They keep their team engaged through effective allocation of tasks and the freedom to complete them. This style of management requires hiring team members who are highly-motivated and competent in their own roles, or the manager will be compromised.

Activator managers often display inherent skills in understanding complex problems and are able to carve out suitable business frameworks from new understandings, they simplify complexity. This is therefore a very useful management style for areas of business that require in-depth understanding of the business. This is the type of manager who will have all bases covered, projects completed to schedule, and a team where each person has clearly defined roles. This is a very pragmatic and responsible manager, and I often see many managers of this ilk reach Chief Risk, COO or CEO positions as a result of their strengths.

3) The Visionary Leader:

  • Key Characteristics: This is the type of style which combines strong interpersonal skills with business relations, with a strong ability to inspire, motivate and energise teams. Although this management personality suits many people who reach the top of organisations, the more classic examples of this type lie outside of finance and make me think of Politicians, Activists, and your classic CEOs of FMCGs. They are normally those with a personality that is seen both inside and outside their business. They provide long-term direction and vision, both through common discussion with the team and through their own unique ability to understand the business, which is the reason they are often found steering firms large and small. In order to lead, people have to follow, and this management style is very effective in giving people the hope and vision to develop the organisation into a better place. Organisations lacking in direction hire visionary leaders to turn them around, as they provide the vision and the belief that can make things change.

In order for this management style to work effectively, the leader must develop their employees, and they must appear credible. This is about both style and substance, and it is only in this combination that visionaries make successful leaders. Managers who have this style can come from any area of the business, but often people who have this style come from sales, relationship management, or investment backgrounds, as these people often have the combination of business and interpersonal skills, with being good under pressure, that are required to be successful in a visible role like this.

4) The Friend and Mentor:

  • Key Characteristics: These managers are close to their staff. They approach their teams with a depth of understanding and a depth of feeling that brings their team towards them, given that they take the time to understand individuals within their teams, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Because of this understanding, people working for them respond to them very positively, as they have taken the time to establish how they like to be managed and this leads to honesty and trust. Employees are given clear career paths, and feel they know where they are going. As well as understanding individuals within the team, these managers appreciate the differences between them, and are keen to see harmony among their employees, creating a pleasant place to work. This style can also involve a lot of meetings, as individuals are typically invited to share their views, and consensus of approach is sought.

This management style works best in environments where there isn’t a large amount of stress and where the manager will have the time to approach issues with the time they require to get the best out of their staff. While they are the best managers at giving personal help to their employees, this manager isn’t so effective if the employee is more task-oriented and not really interested in having a relationship with them. In order to avoid this, the Friend and Mentor manager needs to ensure that they hire staff with the same kind of approach, those who are looking for a friend as much as a boss.

Part 3 – Conclusions & best management style:

I hope you have enjoyed reading the last few blog entries, now I am afraid I have to mix everything up again!!

I think it’s instinctive to analyse yourself whilst reading the various personality styles and to assess yourself; which style is most similar to yours, your personality and character. That approach is probably the best you have found, the winning style most of the time. My guess is that while you probably felt akin to a particular style, you realised you were similar to a couple or more of them, and you didn’t fall neatly into any one of the boxes.

No ‘right’ path to management:

I am not really a fan of putting people in boxes, and with management much like anything else, I don’t think it works. There is no ultimate management route out there, no ‘right’ way that works above others. The best leaders use all styles, in the right combination and at the right times, to achieve the results that they need. While it is true that certain traits come through more in one person or another, it is very rare for effective managers to use one style exclusively. It’s all about balance, between you and your team, the workload, the hours and the energy you put into it. If one party feels they are pulling all the weight it ultimately doesn’t work. You could look to those last techniques to try and help you address that, as there is good in all of them. It could be that more direct techniques might help, or on the opposite hand, giving your team more flexibility might help your team to feel good, and help you to redress the balance.

Why balance is important:

Just because you are the manager and have the final responsibility it doesn’t mean you need to be working late every night, and just because your team members are doing well this isn’t the cue for you to disappear. At a fundamental level we are all just the same, with personal drivers and emotions, regardless of title or hierarchy. If one of us feels the balance is out it affects everything and everyone else. Imbalanced teams don’t work effectively although sometimes it isn’t clear why, because on the face of it everyone is pretty good. This is the reason that many organisations with heavy hierarchies lack fresh talent and innovation. Also, some organisations that lack clear reporting lines and decision-making powers don’t get anywhere fast. Finally, and I know someone will kill me for writing this, but I think it is important to have gender balance, if possible, in organisations. I just believe that on every level, organisations work better this way. Too much of one or the other invariably leads to problems, and I think we all know what that imbalance can feel like.

Reflect on the following : directing / telling , leading / following , mentor / friend , do-er / activator. I deliberately placed the words side by side, I think the human brain has a way of automatically zoning in on one, but the right response is good use of all of the above. I personally err more on the side of directing than telling, but I know you need both at times, especially when you have deadlines and need to get things done.

Be up for the challenge:

There is no secret to good management, it is challenging, and there are always new things you discover. I find that often much of the learning isn’t about others but actually about what they tell you about yourself, and sometimes they are the hardest things to follow.

I believe it is a little more straightforward when managing a team with more transactional-based work, but the minute that complex business issues and client relationships get involved, it becomes more difficult. In order to manage well, it isn’t just about good ‘management’ skills but also human or people skills. I deliberately use the word ‘human’ because I think it is much closer to what I mean than ‘interpersonal’ skills. That word gets banded around a lot, and to me it has lost a little meaning… There are no short-cuts. It is the same qualities that people look for in other people; honesty, hope, trust, and compassion, that create the kind of leaders that people want to follow.

Management is just another term for dealing with people, which requires you to understand your staff on a personal level, not as your employees, but as people that they are. Only then can you motivate, mentor and develop them into becoming the best that they can be, and that is the only sure route to building a strong organisation

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