Last week, I wrote about ways to make your boss love you. This week is a similar list for managers, offering ways to gain the respect and affection of your employees. Confining myself to 10 turned out to be hard—there are so many ways to manage badly and so many things that it's important to do well. So here are 10 to start off with, and I hope people will add more:
1. Let's open with the big one: Don't be a jerk. Yelling, disparaging people, defensiveness, shooting the messenger, and publicly berating someone are all off limits. Good people have options, and few of them will want to work for a jerk.
2. Be reasonable. Yes, you want to hold people to high standards, but that doesn't mean you should demand the truly impossible or insist that an employee work all weekend for something that easily could wait.
3. Keep your word. Do what you say you're going to do, in whatever timeline you committed to—whether it's giving feedback on a project, liaising with another department, or making a raise come through. (A subset of this: Be responsive. If people have to follow up with you to get a response, you're not being responsive enough. It only takes 30 seconds to write, "I won't have time to look at this until next week." If nothing else, let people know where things stand.)
4. Make sure your staff feels respected and valued: Act in ways that show you care about their quality of life. And don't underestimate the impact of regularly making sure great employees know you think they're great.
5. Solicit feedback. Ask for input on everything from how the staffer thinks last week's event went to what you could be doing to make her job easier. Good managers know their employees have a different perspective to share, and they value it, rather than ignoring it or feeling threatened by it.
6. Stay focused on results. Don't have rules and policies for their own sake; make sure each is connected to an actual business need, and be willing to bend the rules if it makes sense overall.
7. Figure out what people need to do their job better, and help them get it. This can range from training and better equipment to the elimination of a counterproductive policy, your intervention with a problem coworker or another department, advice on handling a sticky situation, and more targeted feedback.
8. Don't avoid difficult decisions. Your job is to solve problems, not avoid them. That means you're going to have to have tough conversations, make decisions that may be unpopular, and enforce standards and consequences. Ironically, while managers who avoid these things are usually trying to avoid upsetting employees, they end up doing exactly that—because good employees will get frustrated and disgruntled by a manager's passivity and avoidance of conflict.
9. Speaking of which: Be honest about performance problems. While talking about performance problems isn't pleasant, it's far worse to be an employee whose boss doesn't care enough to tell her about areas she needs to improve in. Even if you're convinced such a conversation would be fruitless and the employee can't change, she deserves to know—because maybe you're underestimating her, or maybe it would be useful for her to understand the ways in which she's a bad fit for this work, or maybe she just deserves a chance to see the writing on the wall so she can start looking for other positions. If a manager has complaints or concerns about an employee and the employee doesn't know it, the problem is at least as much with the manager as with the employee.
10. Don't assume you know what's going on. Probe around and ask questions; you may be surprised what you uncover. Things you want to know: How satisfied are your employees? How's their workload? What would improve their quality of life at work? What part of their job are they struggling with? What can you do to help them improve and/or manage around this? Are there obstacles that are making their jobs more difficult? What are their goals for their job and their longer-term future, and are there things you can do to help with that? Keep in mind that you need to go out of your way to encourage people to talk to you about these things, as many will not speak candidly to you without encouragement.
Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-size nonprofit, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.