7 Habits of Highly Successful Managers

Jul 21, 2011 by

Welcome to a new installment of my semi-regular ‘7 Skills/Habits’ series (travelers, coworkers, supervision), an idea stolen blatantly from Stephen Covey.*

A couple of months ago, I was asked to present a training on leadership and management. I was told that I had 3 hours and about 15 interns to work with in the session. And that was it. It was intimidating to say the least. I mean how do you talk about leadership and management in a way that gets across some useful lessons in 3 hours? It seems like both too much and too little time.

But then I took a deep breath and started to focus on the ‘7 Habits’ model as a way to design the training. What I came away with was a distillation of many of the management habits – best practices really – that I consistently harp on within this blog. Now, I’m going to share them with you:

  1. Listen – You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
    • Listening is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most important management tools you have. Some people never listen, some listen occasionally and some listen a lot but still filter everything they hear through their own biases. You must strive to avoid being any one of those people and instead seek to be a person who truly listens to what people say and even what they don’t say. Doing this will make you both unique among your peers and better able to manage everyone around you.
  2. Prepare – Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.
    • Make no mistake: proper preparation requires time, effort and energy. But it also makes for success in everything you do. Making a list and checking it twice isn’t only for Santa.
  3. Prioritize – Figure out what is most important. Do that first.
    • I’m not claiming that figuring out what is most important is easy; it is not. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you should avoid it or not even bother trying.
  4. Follow up – If you say you’ll do something, do it. If someone else says they’ll do something, make sure that they do.
    • This one seems so simple and yet so many people don’t do it! I’ll give you a perfect example related to career development: in my first job, I worked with hundreds of college students all around the country, many of whom were nearly ready to graduate. Now, I was only 22 and fresh out of school myself, but I had gone through a job search, moved to a new city and had some contacts from my job. How many of those hundreds of students followed up with me to ask for help, advice, support to contacts. None. That’s right – not one of them followed up with me. Would I have noticed if one of them did? Of course.
  5. Manage Up and Laterally – Ask for guidance and be explicit about what you need.
    • As you begin your career, learning to manage up can be one of the most daunting tasks you face. How do you approach your boss? How do you get what you need? How do you figure out what you’re supposed to do on particular tasks? The key for managing up and laterally is to ask questions and be explicit. None of us are mind readers – you have to tell people what you want and need.
  6. Delegate – Give responsibility, authority and accountability.
      1. Responsibility – you must set clear expectations, but not step-by-step instructions on how something should be done.
      2. Authority – the person you delegate to must be given the right to make decisions
      3. Accountability – the person you delegate to is responsible for the work, but you (the delegator) have ultimate responsibility for the task
    • Out of all of these habits (with the possible exception of listening), this is the one I see screwed up the most. Delegation means “transferring decision-making authority to another employee for a task not necessarily within their job description; the delegator still retains ultimate accountability for the project.” (Apologies, I found this quote several years ago and I can no longer remember the source of it.)
    • Here are the key takeaways – and the things that people screw up about delegation:
  7. Take Responsibility and Give Credit – Own the bad, share the good.
    • This one is fairly self-explanatory: don’t take credit for other people’s ideas or work, share the credit when you both get it done and take responsibility when you – or someone you delegated to – messes things up. Simple, but maybe not easy.

Are there other tips you have for good managers? What do you do to keep at the top of your management game? Let me know!

*To further pay homage, I’ll note that most of the content from this post comes from lessons I’ve learned from Peter Drucker, one of world’s foremost management experts and one of my personal mentors in absentia (obviously I don’t know him personally and he sadly passed away a few years ago). I encourage you to purchase or borrow any one of his books right away.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Leo Reynolds