Rita was promoted to her first management role because she was a smart, hardworking problem solver. But when she stepped into a role focused on leading others, the majority of her work became about helping other people to be successful and navigating complex relationships. When this shift occurred, Rita didn’t know exactly where to start. She read articles that said, “do this and don’t do that” – for instance “don’t micromanage” and “build trust with your employees” – but it was hard to know where and how to start putting that advice into practice effectively.

This is a topic I frequently discuss with leaders and managers. How does one learn to be a good manager? Some of the top struggles managers mention includes failing to recognize people’s achievements, being too distant, not getting to know people, struggling to know how and when to provide flexibility, and being unsure about delegating work, among a list of many others. Over the years, Talent Plus ® has developed and tested tools to equip managers with practical strategies to build trust and learn more about their employees’ strengths, aspirations and unique needs.

One tool we often introduce is called the Observational Screener, which is a set of reflection questions for managers to use if they are considering promoting someone on their team to a supervisory role. It helps them reflect on whether the employee shows the aptitude and readiness for a next-level-up role. A recent leader we worked with had a huge ah-ha moment while doing the Observational Screener. By using the tool, he determined that he had selected the wrong person to be his successor. Other people had been telling him they didn’t think the gentleman he had chosen was right for the role, but no one could explain why. As he worked through the questions in the Observational Screener, he realized that the gentleman was lacking talent in various key areas. It made him think differently about the qualities that would be needed in his successor and gave him time to re-initiate his search for the right person to back fill his role before he retired.

Another of the tools we introduce to managers is called Focus On You ®, a structured relationship-building exercise that can be done in a group or team. One thing that people share as they do the exercise is the name they would like to be called. A colleague of mine, Mark Epp, was teaching this tool once and had a group in which most of the people did not know each other except for two gentlemen who had worked together for 10 years. One gentleman, named James, responded to the name he liked to be called question with “Ah, well, Jim is okay.” After he shared his response with the group, Mark said, “So your name is James, and you sounded a little hesitant about being called Jim. Are you sure that’s the name you like to be called? I’m sure Jimmy wouldn’t work!” He said, “No, I hate being called Jimmy, hate it!” His friend said, “Dang, man, I’ve been calling you Jimmy for 10 years!” Jim said, “Yep, you sure have!”

This is a simple example, but things like this happen all the time when people do the Focus On You activity together. They learn new things about their employees and team, even if they’ve worked together for many years. Discontinuing calling “Jim” by a name he hated to be called likely improved he and his friend’s working relationship.

These are just two of the tools for managers and leaders we have put together into a day-long seminar called Leadership Toolbox. The important point for managers to take away from the seminar is that taking time to get to know your employees and genuinely build trust and rapport is important. Building a solid relationship will enable you to more easily coach people in positive ways. So, let your guard down. Take time to show interest and have conversations that are about more than just work and the status of projects. Figure out what is important to each person, be supportive, recognize and appreciate their contributions, and you will immediately begin to build a more positive team culture.

Would these tools help you or the managers you lead? Join us here at Talent Plus on Thursday, October 5, 2017 for the next Leadership Toolbox event to learn practical and immediately actionable leadership tools and practices that will help elevate your impact as a manager and coach. Or host a Leadership Toolbox in your organization. Contact us for additional details.

 Abby Christensen, M.A. works as a Senior Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus, analyzing the talents of senior leaders and consulting with clients about the fit of potential candidates within their organizations. Additionally, she works closely with human resource teams and leaders within organizations to help them select the right leaders and develop their staff. She also serves as an executive coach and leads our cohort-based leadership development program, Leadership Plus.