We started to write a piece on the most essential tips for managers and then realized, who better to pitch in for this content than real leaders?

So, we collected 9 pieces of manager advice from incredible leaders who not only lead successful teams, but believe in teams as much as we do.

Some of these tips might hit home or already be in your toolbelt. Others might be great additions as you continue to develop in your role. All the advice in this piece should be a small reminder that you are part of a community of leaders that just like you, have been in the trenches of overwhelming days and difficult times on their team.

Take a moment to recognize the complexity of your job and appreciate and all the good work you do. As a brand dedicated to helping managers and teams succeed, we are always in awe of you.

And now, let’s hear what your leader peers have to say!

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9 honest manager tips, from one team leader to another

1. Get curious, check your assumptions at the door

Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint, Director, strategic planning at Tam-TamTBWA

🎙 Never assume. We’re all gifted and different. We’re used to going fast and being on autopilot. Take the time to defuse preconceived ideas with curiosity. Listening actively and unpacking both information and emotion (your own or your team members’) can enrich everyone around the table. All while unlocking true greatness.

- Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint, Director, strategic planning at Tam-Tam TBWA

Beautifully said! Great managers put in the work to unpack their own biases and preconceptions (we all have them). Don’t assume you always know the answer. Be genuinely curious about how people are feeling, and why projects are working, or not. Before judging things like underperformance or conflict, try to understand the real reason behind it. Talk about it. Unpack it. Have a tough conversation about it. Taking the time to ask thoughtful questions that push beyond the surface is what will help you really understand your team's needs.

💡 Tip: Get time on the books to connect with each team member on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Use these 1-on-1 moments to ask meaningful questions that give you well-rounded insight into what both drives and pains your people. If you don’t ask, you just won’t know.

2. Be sure you really understand what it means to be a manager

Caren Carrasco, Managing partner at Benjamin David Group

Caren Carrasco, Managing partner at Benjamin David Group

🎙 It has to start with a desire to lead a team. Many mistakenly believe that a transition to a manager is the only way to grow a career. A successful team needs direction, attention, guidance, feedback, development, etc.

(...) This not only requires a tremendous amount of time, but it’s time that often doesn’t come with a clear output, which could be a challenge for delivery-focused individuals. In my experience, the best managers are usually the ones who really know how to put their team first, above their own priorities. A team can feel this. You can’t fake the sincerity and involvement that’s required to lead one, and like most things, you get what you give. Take the time to think about what you really want before becoming a manager. And when you are a manager, focus on your people.

There’s lots to think about here, especially for a first-time manager.

Becoming a manager is not a continuation of your individual expertise. Management is a job in and of itself with a whole new set of responsibilities. Most importantly, it’s no longer about you. It’s about your people. To be successful as a manager, your drive needs to extend beyond your own career growth to the growth and development of your team.

💡New manager? We have a full guide to help you get into the right mindset for the role.

3. Focus on people’s strengths

- Annick Robinson, Communications Leader, Alstom:

🎙 What distinguishes great leaders are those who find the strengths of each person on the team and look for every opportunity for them to shine. As a leader, I think of myself as the obstacle remover for my team, so they can each score.

(...) I give them visibility, opportunities, and push them to grow. In my first meetings with new team members, it is key that I understand not just where they are now, but where they want to go, and where they want to grow - and then try to make that happen for them.

We could not agree more. Your team members will excel when they feel their skills, talent and strengths are being properly used and nurtured in their company. If you hire someone for their expertise, let them put it to use! Don’t micromanage. Instead, remove obstacles that pop up along the way and give your people the space they need to put their skills to work. That means don’t flood your team with work that does not motivate them. Instead, help people develop where they already possess potential.

💡 Did you know? 30% of employees do not currently feel that their skills are being used. How does your team feel? Find out using Officevibe's employee engagement solution!

4. Be vulnerable with your team if you want them to be open with you

Nogol Madani, Founder at Glee Factor

🎙 Build a psychologically safe environment for each team member. When employees feel included and safe, they are engaged, they share their ideas, they learn, they innovate and ultimately perform (often beyond your expectations!). Communicate as human beings first and as professionals second through consistent check-ins. To achieve this safety on your team, model vulnerability. Our teams are as open, vulnerable and safe as we are as leaders.

- Nogol Madani, Founder at Glee Factor

The discussion around vulnerability in leadership and psychological safety on teams has picked up a lot of steam over the past few years. Officevibe is on this bandwagon. Being a manager does not mean you need to be infallible. It doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers. And it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t human. Great managers get real with their team, so their team can get real with them. Make mistakes, be your authentic self, and emphasize inclusion. This is when team cultures vibe.

💡 Try this: Start each team meeting with a human check-in. Something as simple as “Use one word to describe how you are coming into this meeting”. When you and your team members are given the space to share their state of mind, empathy and safety grows.

5. Don’t wait. Be proactive and responsive to problems

Louis Bridgman, Manager, SAP Success Factors

Louis Bridgman, Manager, SAP:

🎙 I've been managing high-performing software engineering teams for five years. The best tip that I can give is to be responsive. For example, one of my teams had become frustrated with a new project assignment lacking a clear mandate, with mixed messages coming from different stakeholder groups.

(...) This became clear to me through multiple 1-on-1 conversations. I didn't have the answer, but I knew that the only way to get clarity was to sit these stakeholder groups down, compare the conflicting messages, and strive for some unified direction for the teams to do their jobs! Responsiveness requires active listening, empathy, and a bias towards action. I didn't have the answer, but I knew that the only way to get clarity was to sit these stakeholder groups down, compare the conflicting messages, and strive for some unified direction for the teams to do their jobs! Responsiveness requires active listening, empathy, and a bias towards action.

Louis highlights the importance of acting fast to alleviate pains, which we agree is a key management skill. Find solutions for team issues before the fire grows.

What we love about Louis’ anecdote is that he used his 1-on-1 meetings like a pro. During these conversations, he was able to surface individual employee pain points and spot patterns across the team. Without taking the time for these important conversations, how long would the problem have persisted?

6. Empathize: push yourself to take a different perspective

- Jacob Morgan, TED Speaker & Host: The Be Your Own Boss Podcast:

🎙 Empathy is about being able to take that person's perspective and to put yourself in their shoes to feel what they feel. Being a master of empathy allows you to create better products for your customers, resolve conflicts more effectively, and foster collaboration. You're able to build connections with other people because you can understand them and take their perspective.

This reminds us of what Ingrid said about letting go of your assumptions and preconceptions. Empathy has a part to play in this, and an even bigger part to play in being a fair manager. This pillar of emotional intelligence allows you to build real connections with your team by putting yourself in their reality and judging it from their vantage point, not yours.

You might not always agree with an employee’s perspective, but try to understand where they are coming from. A great manager is always willing to challenge their own thinking.

💡 Tip: Ask yourself important questions before reacting. For example, “how would I want to be treated if I was in the same situation as my team member”?

7. Listen closely, as if your job depends on it  

Mike Ross, VP at Simons

🎙 "Listen! Really, really listen! Listen to understand, not just to respond or confirm your own hypotheses."

- Mike Ross, VP at Simons

This might seem like a no-brainer, but the problem is, it’s easier said than done. As your day moves fast and your to-do list grows, being present in conversations is not always top of mind.

But, more than anything, your employees want to be heard. Be intentional about every conversation with your team members. Go in with an open mind. Leave your own hypotheses and biases on the backburner. Focus on what they are trying to tell you, even beyond the words they are using. Listening is a life skill, and we can all use a reminder of its importance once in a while. Listen to listen, not to respond.

💡 Tip: When you are listening to your employee and your “response” pops into your head, push it aside and keep listening. To show them that you’ve listened, summarize what they said back to them.

8. Take "you time”. It’s the only way to show up for your team

- Rajkumari Neogy, Management coach and founder at iRestart

🎙 Take care of yourself so you can show up for your team. Right now, the biggest concern for managers and employees is burnout, which directly impacts the mental health states of the company’s workforce. Time blocking is the single most important skill to master during the “living at work” situation the pandemic is forcing upon us. Block 15-30 min in your calendar in the AM and in the PM and then commit to that block of time. This allows us to take time for ourselves and to unplug briefly. When we are able to make time for self-reflection, we are prioritizing our mental health.

As the old adage goes, you should always put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else. Ultimately, burnt-out managers cannot lead successful teams. You have a lot to do in a day, so it might feel irresponsible to take some “you time”. But, as Rajkumari explains, self-reflecting and stepping back from the bustle of the day is key for clarity, and mental health. Managers matter too.

Try out time-blocking, what she referred to in our chat as “popsicle moments”. A nice reminder to take a lighthearted step back and do something for yourself. Why not even encourage your employees to do the same? When employees know their leader has their best interest at heart, trust tends to grow.

💡 Ask yourself: “Did I allow myself to take a break today?”, “Did I eat lunch away from the computer?”, “Did I unplug after work?” If your answer is no to these, it’s time to take the time.

9. Follow the trifecta: shared values, alignment, and focus

Stephanie LeBlanc, Director of Customer Success at Coveo

🎙 To lead successful teams, managers must operate in an ecosystem comprised of 3 things: shared values, alignment on company-wide goals, and a dedicated focus on positive customer outcomes. As a manager, you must have a relentless focus on these three core pillars and the rest will fall into place.

Stephanie LeBlanc, Director of Customer Success at Coveo

Steph’s point on shared values really resonates. Once a year, our team takes a day away from work to re-align our values. We discuss our needs as workers (for example, no meetings before 10 am), but also, our human values. From these conversations, we determine a set of Team Principles to live by that helps us better communicate and collaborate.

Some team principles that have really helped our team thrive:

  • Think in hypotheses, not certainties
  • Seek to understand before challenging one another
  • Have tough conversations: call the elephant in the room

💡 Tip: Your team’s values should be revisited as the team grows and new people with new perspectives and ideas are brought on board. Here’s how we built our Team Principles.

Thanks to the wonderful leaders who took the time to share their best management tips and advice. There is nothing more authentic than hearing from real people and their real experiences.

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