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It is possible to be a good manager if you simply go through the motions, do your work, and field any issues that crop up. But what distinguishes a good manager from a great one? How can you step up your leadership game so that people see you as a trustworthy role model and a motivator?

There are a few crucial traits that separate good and great managers. If you feel that some of these traits are underdeveloped, that’s okay! It is possible to consciously work on these areas to grow and improve your leadership.

Here are 5 crucial traits of great managers:

1. They are excellent listeners

A good listener is an active listener. They pay attention when others are talking—not just to the words, but also to tone of voice, vocal inflections, and facial expressions. An active listener maintains an open mind and asks good questions. They are curious and genuinely want to understand the speaker’s point of view.

Active listening demonstrates that you care. You don’t brush aside others’ perspectives; rather, you open yourself to new ideas, opinions, and viewpoints. You take a genuine interest in what others have to say, and then apply what you’ve learned. Great managers truly listen.

2. They set clear expectations

Top managers are usually excellent communicators. Their expectations are never a mystery because they clearly and openly communicate with their team. As a manager, it is important to articulate goals, set deadlines, and deliver any relevant information. It is also important to hold everyone accountable for their work. If expectations are not met, it is up to the manager to find out why and either re-strategize or (in some cases) enact consequences.

3. They involve their team

Great managers understand that they do not have all the answers. They also understand that it is imperative to engage their team every step of the way. If a team is highly involved in a project (from initiation to implementation), they will have a personal stake in the project’s success. Additionally, this kind of involvement keeps people active and motivated.

As a manager, be sure to invite all thoughts and ideas when you’re embarking on a new project. Innovation is only possible if we dare to listen to a diverse array of voices. As long as the goals are clear, trust your team to define their own path.

4. They are adaptable

Businesses and markets can change in the blink of an eye. A capable manager rolls with the punches and isn’t afraid to change course. If something isn’t working—or if it’s clear that the company needs to head in a different direction—dare to confront the problems at hand and make changes. You do not, of course, have to re-strategize on your own. That’s where your team can come into play (see point 3!)

5. They foster trust

No one likes a micro-manager. No one thrives when they feel like their superior is constantly looking over their shoulder, monitoring their every move. Dare to take a step back and give your team some breathing room! As long as you set clear expectations and create a culture of accountability, does it really matter what your employees do on a given day? If someone consistently produces quality work, does it matter if they head to the gym for an hour each afternoon? (Incidentally, taking meaningful breaks can actually boost productivity!). If your team is engaged, making good progress (which you can track through reports or regular meetings), and regularly producing good results, then it’s wise to take a step back and let the little things go.

Another aspect of trust has to do with holding regular one-on-one check-ins with your team members. These check-ins can be used to gauge progress, but their primary purpose should be to get to know your team, listen to their thoughts or grievances, and offer whatever support you can. Encourage an open dialogue, and make sure to keep any personal information strictly confidential. Trust might not happen overnight, but with each conversation and each action that shows you care, you will build it.

There is a definite line between good managers and great ones. Do you need to develop some of the 5 traits of a great manager? If so, pick one area and focus on that for the next month. Then, pick another area to develop, then another. The most important aspect of becoming a better manager is YOU and the honest effort you make to improve and connect with your team.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You’re feeling exhausted or lethargic. Work, and life in general, holds little interest for you. You dread checking your email in the morning. You’d rather stay in bed than get up to face the day. Perhaps you’ve picked up unhealthy habits to cope with stress, irritation, or low productivity.

These are all signs of burnout.

Though burnout has always been an issue in the workplace, its presence has dramatically increased over the past couple of years. In an international survey, 90% of participants believed that their work lives were getting worse, and 60% were experiencing frequent burnout. Those figures are troubling, to say the least!

Burnout can feel heavy or stressful. It can dim your usual joy. How can you cope with such a troubling emotion? Try these 6 approaches*…

*If you’re coping with something more than burnout, please seek consultation from a licensed therapist or other mental health professional.

1. Pinpoint the source

It’s difficult to deal with burnout if you don’t fully understand the cause. “Work” might be too general to blame on burnout (maybe you love or enjoy certain aspects of your job). Whenever you’re starting to feel anxious, stressed, or exhausted, think about why that is. Do you feel this way whenever you need to check in with a certain co-worker or superior? Does a certain task make you feel drained? Pinpointing the source of your burnout can help you figure out solutions.

2. Know your limits

For many people, burnout occurs when we take on too much work or when we agree to do things that are well outside our abilities or scope of interest. When you’re overloaded or you’re asked to do something outlandish, say no. It is possible to decline with grace (more HERE), and offer other potential solutions for the task at hand.

For example: “This assignment is well outside my skillset. Have you considered approaching Beth about it?”

Or: “I have a full plate right now and adding one more thing is simply not feasible. Can we push this back to next month or shuffle around some of my other assignments?”

3. Create healthy boundaries

With so many people working out of a home office, it can be easy to blur the lines between work and home. Commit to only working or answering emails within a certain time frame. Stick to a routine and do your best to separate your professional world from your private one. You might even get dressed for work in the morning and go on a walk as a kind of “commute.” Whatever it takes to get in the work zone!

4. Take a meaningful break

At times, we simply need to step away from work for a while and take a break. See if you can get away for at least a couple of weeks to rest up and rejuvenate. Make the break a meaningful one. Don’t answer calls or check work emails. If finances are a constraint, take a “staycation” and practice your version of self-care (reading, catching up on sleep, painting, mountain biking…).

5. Unwind with a hobby

One way to combat burnout is to pick up an after-work hobby. You might choose to do something calm and relaxing (yoga, cooking classes, photography) or something energizing and invigorating (spin classes, training your dog in agility). Your meaningful hobby can be a kind of oasis—a getaway that you can regularly look forward to.

6. Simplify

Ask yourself: Is there any part of my life that I can simplify? Is there any task I can cut out or assign to someone else?

At work, look for ways to make your day more efficient. Could information be conveyed through a simple phone call, rather than a back-and-forth email chain? Are you reporting the same information to different people, when you could loop everyone in with a single Zoom meeting? Is there anything that makes sense to delegate to someone else?

In your personal life, is there anything you can hire out to someone else (lawn work, cleaning, car repair, meal prep)? Is there anything you can cut out?

Burnout is an epidemic, and it’s time we all dealt with it. There are certain steps you can take on your own (the above list is only the tip of the iceberg), but burnout is also something that should be considered at an organizational level. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk with superiors about ways to prevent employee burnout. If you’d like ideas on how to frame such a conversation, send me a note.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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“If you’re trying to break a habit, don’t say ‘this is the last time I’m doing it’ to yourself. Instead, say ‘this is the first time I’m NOT doing it.”

-Unknown

Many of us have had to adjust to new ways of living, working, and existing during the recent pandemic. Now, people are slowly returning to work, and children are either back in school or poised to return this coming fall. With so many things in flux, we’ve had to adapt to and create new routines and habits.

Whether you’re adjusting to life changes OR trying to buck an old habit, I have a few different tips for doing so. Feel free to experiment and do what works best for YOU and your situation. And remember: developing a new habit takes time and patience. You’ve got this.

1. Enlist an Accountability Partner/Role Model

Telling one or more people about your goal is a powerful action for developing new habits. Not only can that person/people act as support, they can also apply a little bit of healthy peer pressure. If you cheat on a goal, what will your accountability partner/role model think??

You may also consider having regular check-ins with your accountability partner to keep you on track. Don’t forget to thank your partner in some way OR offer to return the favor if they are also seeking to develop a new habit.

2. Act Daily

It’s crucial to be consistent when developing a new habit. Make a commitment to act every day to help your new habit stick.

3. Keep a Calendar

Buy an old-fashioned paper calendar and make a mark on it (or apply a sticker!) every time you practice your new habit. A calendar is a great visual reminder of everything you’ve achieved and it can help keep your habit top-of-mind.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

You may not be a natural at keeping up your habit at first. Whether you’re attempting to quit smoking, going to the gym every morning, or committing to reading more books, the early stages of your habit might not come easily. Be gentle with yourself and understand that things WILL get easier as you go along.

5. Visualize

Visualization is a technique used by professional athletes and entrepreneurs alike. There are neurological reasons for visualizing your success. Your brain begins to recognize pathways to success and sees success as the norm. Take the time to envision yourself participating in your new habit and thriving.

6. Reward Yourself!

There’s nothing wrong with bribing yourself to achieve your goals! Set a few incremental milestones on your calendar (one successful week, month, six weeks) and reward yourself when you reach those milestones. You might treat yourself to a dessert, go out for a nice dinner, or take a mini vacation (an outing at a lake, perhaps, or an extended weekend trip). Do whatever you’d like, as long as the rewards match the achievements.

Creating a new habit can be difficult at first, but with time, commitment, patience, and faith in yourself, you can do just about anything. If you’re aspiring to a career-related habit and want to talk, I’m here. Best of luck with developing your new habit!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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