How To Be A Great Manager That Employees Want To Work With

I recently spoke to Jill Geisler, who is the author of Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. Her companion “Great Bosses” podcasts  on iTunesU have been downloaded 8 million times – and counting. Jill heads the leadership and management faculty of the Poynter Institute. She teaches, writes and consults on critical issues for leaders and counts among her clients The Boston Globe, CNN, and the Washington Post. In recognition of her lifetime contributions to journalism, the University of Wisconsin honored her with its “Distinguished Service to Journalism” award, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association named her to its Broadcast Hall of Fame, and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted her into its prestigious Silver Circle.

In this interview, Jill talks about what it takes to be a happy manager despite the poor economy, how social media can create a happier work environment, and more.

What does it take be a happy manager in a bad economy?

It takes three things: strategic thinking, emotional intelligence and a passion for helping people do their best work, even in the face of diminished resources. When managers think strategically, they are able to look at bigger picture goals and determine what of the many demands on their time they will make a priority.

With emotional intelligence, they can help their teams recover from setbacks and frustration while using targeted feedback to encourage their progress. (Remember, feedback is a renewable resource that costs managers nothing and pays great dividends.)

And that passion? It transforms them from yesterday’s parental-type supervisors into what I believe today’s best bosses must be: agents. Employees want to work for someone who approaches them as an agent would: “Sign on with me and I’ll help you get to where you want to go. I’ll be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. I’ll guide you so you’ll build a track record that serves you well here or wherever life takes you.”

How can social media help build a happier work environment?

Social media is a game changer for internal relationships among colleagues and external relationships with customers. Some organizations view social media, first and foremost, as risk that must be managed. But it’s wiser to think of social media as an invitation to creative communication. To instant feedback and problem solving. To putting a human face on people who once were only titles and offices. To building collaboration and relationships. The biggest risk is regulating it so tightly that people can’t or won’t engage.

What do you recommend for younger leaders as they develop their skills?

Don’t worry about your age. Too many of the new managers I coach fear that have a neon sign over their heads that flashes “Untested-Green-Inexperienced.”

But the word “new” has other meanings, including “Fresh-Innovative-Improved.” That’s the focus they should have, because they bring new gifts to the world of work, including digital savvy, a healthy appreciation of diversity, and an expectation that learning is a lifelong endeavor. And then there’s the oh-so-practical advice I always give young managers: When your staff invites you to an important party, by all means, accept. But drink less and leave earlier than everyone else. That way you’ll remember everything you said – and you’ll give them space to make jokes about and do impressions of all those bozos in management – just like you once did!

How do you think the remote workplace will impact leadership development?

I’ve worked remotely since 1998, so I know a bit about this. (I live in Wisconsin and commute to Florida to teach leadership seminars at our institute.) Start with the assumption that the greater the distance between people, the more important communication becomes. When I work with leaders whose teams are dispersed geographically, I emphasize the need for intentional communication to ensure that people don’t fill in the empty spaces with misinformation. I underscore the need for user-friendly metrics that objectively demonstrate productivity and progress. I advocate for coaches and mentors across the miles so emerging leaders are “on the radar” even when they’re not in the traditional “headquarters.”

What three tips would you offer future managers?

  1. As I say in Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, “Change is the new normal,” so assume you will always be managing change. Learn to become an expert at it.
  2. Know what you want to be known for. What skills? What values?
  3. Remember: life’s too short to work with jerks. Build a jerk-free culture of excellence in your workplace. And have fun.

Read More:

Why Your Passion Might Not Lead To Career Success

Seven Steps To Entrepreneurial Success


Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting company. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his Personal Branding Blog for more self-help advice.


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