The 5 Most Important Management Skills Right Now

Having a nightmare boss can make even the most loyal employees start covertly screening LinkedIn job boards for new places to hang their hat. At worst, the side effects of poor management skills include high turnover, low engagement and productivity, and lack of team chemistry. In toxic workplaces, jaded employees aren't usually forthcoming about the issues within the team so it can be difficult to diagnose.

On the flip side, if you look closely, you'll find similarities in the strong managerial skills of good leaders. In recent years, there has been a major shift from assessing what makes an effective team. It's gone from a hard skills focus (technical skills) to an overwhelming emphasis on soft skills. A report from Development Dimensions International confirms, "Leaders who master listening and responding with empathy will perform more than 40 percent higher in overall performance, coaching, engaging others, planning and organizing, and decision-making." The study was conducted across 18 countries and examined the behaviors of 15,000 leaders over 10 years.

By mastering these five key leadership skills, you'll set yourself and your team up for success.

The 5 Management Skills That Matter Most

Management skills: Man edits graph on computer

Whether you are a hiring manager or deal indirectly with people to manage tasks and projects, there are no downsides to developing your leadership skills. Even though soft skills are famously difficult to assess, there are certain cues you can look for that let you know you're on the right path with your direct reports. 

1. Deliver Constructive Criticism

Feedback culture has become a bit of a buzzword these days, especially in the tech sector. The trick with constructive criticism as a leader is being able to take it as well as you can communicate it. Some of the best cultures have gotten that way from a two-way feedback system. The quality of the feedback you receive from your direct reports should help you to diagnose any issues regarding team morale. Is the feedback critical, honest, and offered with solutions? If your team is only raising issues or complaining it may be a symptom of a toxic employee or culture.

A progressive approach involves asking your team members up front about how they like to receive feedback and then challenging yourself to adapt. The emphasis should be on future actions versus critiquing a recent activity. The feedback you offer should be well-reasoned and for the sole purpose of working together more effectively. When you notice a behavior that has improved, be sure to follow up with positive acknowledgement to let them know you notice and appreciate their effort. It goes a long way in building trust and rapport.

2. Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence

Harvard Business Review says there are four major components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Self-awareness looks like a person who regularly reflects on the effect that their actions have on others.

Great leaders will understand the importance of business goals without alienating their team members. This looks like regulating their emotional responses (self-management) and tailoring their communication approach to suit individual team members.

Social awareness involves considering the people behind the project and seeking to understand them with empathy to inspire a more effective team dynamic. The following empathy statements help to build understanding and create awareness: 

  • I want to be sure I understand you... 
  • Am I correct in thinking that... 
  • I am hearing that x is very important to you, can you help me understand why you need y?

Strong relationship awareness recognizes opportunities for mentorship and uses teamwork as a motivating core principle in problem solving and decision-making. An example of this could include investing in professional development workshops around issues the team is struggling with.

3. Build Team Trust

With developed emotional intelligence, it will be relatively easy to build trust. By demonstrating you are reliable and consistent, and by representing other dependable management skills, you will naturally earn trust.

Signs of team trust: 

  • A high level of transparency among team members.
  • Direct, easy, and good communication even when unpopular opinions are expressed.
  • The ability to delegate when needed (for both team members and managers).
  • Team building activities are fun and natural.

Signs of a lack of team trust: 

  • Gossip or closed-door discussions become the cultural norm.
  • Withholding of information for fear of getting in trouble or standing out.
  • Low engagement and/or productivity levels.
  • Negativity or lack of enthusiasm among team members.
  • Team building activities are strained or awkward.

The Catch-22 is that if you haven't worked on your emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills as a manager, it may escape you when there is a blatant lack of trust on the team. Good management requires you to recognize that there is an issue that needs fixing and then have the humility to ask for feedback on how to be better as a group. 

4. Strengthen Strategic Thinking

Perhaps one of the most important management skills is being able to see the big picture. 

This shouldn't solely be a senior management skill either. Good leaders at all levels with this skill set will be far more effective in their decision-making ability. Strategic thinking helps managers set goals with their team when it comes to areas for professional development and growth. A strategic manager can spot issues quickly and use a rational approach to solving problems and conflicts. 

A great way to build on this skill set if it doesn't come naturally would be to engage a mentor who can guide you along using their experience. If no one comes to mind, put out a community call to other founders for referrals. It can be helpful to find someone who has experience in your industry or vertical but it’s not essential.

5. Plan Proactively With Time Management

Time management and leadership go hand-in-hand. It goes beyond scheduling and setting the tone for professionalism by showing up on time; it's about creating enough space in the day to support the team. Being organized ensures you are on top of projects and available to act as a resource for any last-minute issues.

Solid command over your schedule goes a long way in maintaining a calm and dependable demeanor. By organizing your day well, you avoid unnecessarily projecting any additional stress onto your team. A good manager will ensure there is a buffer after team meetings to address any questions rather than racing out the door to their next engagement (or treating staff like an inconvenience due to their own disorganization).

Management Skills Are Like Legos

Management skills: Colorful rainbow of Lego bricks scattered artfully

Building your management skill set and style takes time. The good news is that it's not a complicated formula. As long as you're reflective enough to recognize when a change needs to happen and humble enough to admit when you don't have the answers then you are already ahead of the curve.

The Searchlight blog is consistently updated with resources on how to get the most from yourself and your team. Stay plugged in as we share these best practices to support healthy and happy teams.

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