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22 People Management Skills The Best Leaders Have

Honing your people management skills will future-proof your career.

Think about a leader you look up to. What is it about them that makes them great? Is it the way they’re able to make everyone on their team feel empowered and valued? Is it their incredible knack for devising a compromise that makes all parties happy?

Whether you’re leading a large corporation or a small team, you need to have certain people management skills to keep performance and morale high. Below, we’ll go over 22 people management skills that top leaders have and why they’re important to your team.

Table of contents

Empathy

Empathy means feeling what someone else feels, or at least, being able to “put yourself in another’s shoes” so you can understand their point of view. Ninety-three percent of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.

And while 91% of CEOs believe their company is empathetic, somewhere, there’s a disconnect—because only 72% of employees say they work for an empathetic company.

As a manager, you need to show empathy because your direct reports will be coming to you with their problems and concerns. If you respond with empathy, they will feel safe enough to speak up about difficult things. If you don’t, however, that can shut down the communication and ruin any trust you might’ve had with them.

Emotional intelligence

Having emotional intelligence means you can identify what you and others are feeling and manage those emotions appropriately. Don’t think this makes you soft or a pushover. You can be a strong, assertive leader and emotionally intelligent. Further, it can boost your employee retention. According to a 2018 Korn Ferry report, up to 70% of employees plan to stay for five years or longer when their leaders display high EI.

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, acknowledging that the emotions are there and allowing yourself to feel them. Emotions tell you when something’s wrong and you need to change it, or when something’s going well and you need to celebrate it.

When it comes to your team, be conscious of their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. And of course, it never hurts to ask people how they feel so you can know how to support their needs.

Effective communication

A 2018 report from The Economist Intelligence Unit found that the main culprit for miscommunication is different communication styles. As a manager, you’ll need to know when to shift the way you communicate to better meet the needs of the person you’re talking to.

This might be the most important skill for effective people management. As an example, our people analytics research found that when it comes to preferred channels of communication, people fall within four categories: seeing, hearing, reading and doing. So if you’re trying to get someone with a “reading” motivation on board with a decision, you need to show them something written, like a report, document or review, before they’ll be convinced.

Obviously, figuring out every team member’s communication style can take loads of time and effort. Thankfully, you can fast track that process: Just have your team take our free F4S assessment!

Conflict resolution

When you’re juggling the needs and desires of multiple people within a team, conflicts are bound to pop up. As a manager, you need to be able to handle these with poise and grace, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the one to “fix” everything. 

Sometimes, successful conflict management means playing mediator—creating a safe space for the disagreement to happen respectfully, facilitating by asking questions and then stepping back and letting the disputing parties handle the rest. In the end, a successful resolution will probably involve a compromise, which is where our next people management skill comes into play.

Negotiation

When you’re managing a team, you’ll lean heavily on negotiation skills. That’s because you’re not going to be able to give everyone exactly what they want all of the time. Being able to come to a compromise that all parties are content with is essential to people management.

Delegation

If you fail to delegate, you’ll feel overwhelmed. You have a team for a reason—put them to work! Each team member has something valuable to offer, and it’s up to you as their leader to identify their strengths and assign them the right tasks.

If you find that you’re hesitant to delegate, opting for the “I’ll just do it myself” route instead, try to identify why that is. Sometimes, this can be a sign that you lack trust in your team, or perhaps, you’re just not yet aware of each individual’s strengths.

Listening

Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you should do all the talking. One of the most important things a manager can do is to listen to their team. Practice “active listening.” This means staying in the moment when someone is talking to you, focusing on what they’re saying—without jumping forward in your head to the moment you get to respond.

Gratitude

Research shows that gratitude is beneficial in many ways, including boosting your mood and helping you do the right thing. Beyond just feeling gratitude, though, you must practice showing it. Why? Well, many workers feel unappreciated
In a study by O.C. Tanner, only about half of employees said their leaders acknowledge great work. And when leaders don’t recognize their accomplishments, employees are 74% less likely to stick around.

Transparency

Transparency can make some leaders feel uncomfortable because it means being open and upfront about what’s going on. Take, for example, the social media marketing company Buffer, which espouses a company value of “default to transparency.” Every month, they publish revenue and user numbers on their blog; every time an email is sent between two people on a team, everyone else on their team has access to it too; they even publicly share the salaries of each team member.

Now, Buffer doesn’t have to do these things. So why do it at all? As their CEO Jeff Gascoigne writes for the Buffer blog, "Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork." By sharing salaries, for example, employees can trust that their employer isn’t hiding anything from them, and they can hold the company accountable for paying fair wages.

Integrity

People in authority must set a good example. It's no surprise, then, that integrity is often ranked as the number one leadership trait. In a 2016 Robert Half Management Resources survey of 1,000 professionals, integrity was voted as the most important leadership attribute. And when organizational scientist Sunnie Giles asked 195 leaders around the world to choose the 15 most important leadership qualities from a list of 74, guess which one came out on top? “Has high ethical and moral standards.”

Calm

Bad things happen to even the most conscientious companies (as COVID-19 showed us all). That’s why being a manager who maintains calm even in the most chaotic of times is so essential. When your team is afraid and panicked, they’ll look to you to model to them how they should be reacting. Calm team management is an essential skill even when things are going well; think of it practicing for the real thing.

Encouragement

Want to know one of the top reasons people quit their jobs? Lack of career growth. More than 22 percent of employees quit their job because it lacked career development opportunities, according to the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report. 

A good manager will know how to help their team members grow both personally and professionally. You can do this by showing an active interest in their development. Ask them about what they enjoy doing and what new skills they’d like to learn. That way, you’ll be able to assign them to exciting projects and connect them with other relevant opportunities.

Inclusivity

No one likes to feel left out. While diversity and inclusion are often talked about together, let’s single out the one managers have control over every day: inclusion. What is it? According to research by Deloitte, inclusion has four elements:

  • Fairness and respect: People are treated “equitably and with respect.” 
  • Valued and belonging: People feel valued by and connected to the group.
  • Safe and open: People can speak up without being punished or humiliated.
  • Empowered and growing: People can grow and do their best work.

So why does inclusion matter? Not only is it that right thing to do, it’s also good for your team. Deloitte Australia found that when teams were led by inclusive leaders, performance went up by 17% and decision-making quality went up by 20%.

Trust

All healthy relationships are built upon a strong foundation of trust. Without it, your team won't feel psychologically safe, and therefore, won't take the necessary risks to grow and improve. Further, without trust, you're likely to micromanage, which kills creativity. If trust is something you struggle with, try team building activities to boost bonding and morale.

Decisiveness

Being able to make decisions quickly is a key element of being a successful leader. But don't equate this with making the "perfect" decisions. Ten years of research from the CEO Genome Project uncovered four behaviors of successful leaders, and one of them is being able to make decisions "with speed and conviction." 

As study authors Elena Lytkina Botelho and Kim Rosenkoetter Powell and their colleagues write for Harvard Business Review:

"High-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains."

If you have a hard time making fast decisions, define your goals and values; these can serve as your compass, guiding you to the best choice. Also, create a framework for making decisions, a sort of template you can use again and again to save time and stress. 

Motivational

One of the most important people management skills you can learn is how to motivate your team, and you'll likely need to adapt your methods to each individual. That's because everyone is unique in what drives them. 

In fact, F4S research has uncovered 48 motivations that affect how people operate—from communication to decision-making to how we feel about rules.

To give an example, we identified three motivations when it comes to where people like to get started in a project: use, concept and structure. 

Someone with a high motivation for ‘use’ has a bias toward action — they’re often eager to jump into a project without a plan. If you tell someone with a ‘use’ motivation to "come up with a plan" or "organize a focus group first," you're likely going to demotivate them. Instead, you'll want to use words like "take action" and "implement" to really get them moving.

Want help understanding the complexities of workplace motivation? Use our people analytics tool to discover the hidden motivations that drive your team—and the exact words and behaviors that unlock them.

Balance

Work-life balance is essential if you want to keep yourself and your team happy and healthy. Not only do you need to set your own boundaries between work and personal life, but you should also help your team set them too. 

For example, if you want your team to feel refreshed and recharged at work, you could set the boundary of not responding to work emails off-the-clock. You can model this behavior to your team, too, by following this rule yourself.

Research overwhelmingly supports the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Here are just a few findings:

  • Work-life balance initiatives resulted in increased shareholder returns for Fortune 500 firms (some as high as $60 million per initiative).
  • Flexible work hours leads to a 10% increase in productivity.
  • Work-life balance policies result in higher organizational attachment for employees.
  • Family-oriented policies lower stress and increase job satisfaction.
  • A study of 527 U.S. companies found that organizations with more work-life balance have higher performance, along with more profit and growth.

Democratic leadership

Leadership skills may seem like an obvious people management skill, but there are so many ways to approach leadership that it can be confusing. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach, when it comes to research, one study, in particular, sheds some light on perhaps the most effective style.

In a 1939 study led by Kurt Lewin, researchers placed children in groups based on leadership style (authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire) and asked them to complete a craft project to see how the leadership styles affected their work. As it turns out, democratic leadership was the most effective; plus, the children preferred the democratic leader over the authoritarian one. 

How can you be a democratic leader?

  1. Involve team members in the problem-solving and decision-making process.
  2. Allow them to collaborate freely with each other on projects.
  3. Participate equally in the work, rather than just telling them what to do.

Humility

Humility is there to keep your pride in check. As a leader, it’s easy to think that your way is the best way, but being humble means being open to being wrong. Listen to your team’s feedback, even when it’s critical, if you want to improve your people management skills and build trust within your team.

Tolerance

Our research has found that a medium-to-high level of tolerance (the ability to be respectful and accepting of differences) is associated with entrepreneurial venture success. There's a lot of benefit to creating a high-tolerance team, including that they can be more innovative because they feel safe to explore. There's a limit to this, though: Don't be so tolerant that you allow bad behavior that ultimately harms your team.

Assertiveness

To balance out tolerance, you need assertiveness. Those motivated by assertiveness are more comfortable telling others what's expected of them, a crucial characteristic of a leader. Though our research has found that successful entrepreneurs have a low to medium level of this particular motivation, assertiveness is positively correlated with profitability. So if increasing profits is your goal, you might value assertiveness more. 

Further, if your company has a values-driven culture, assertiveness is essential to reinforcing the expected behaviors of your organization.

Good judgment

As a manager, you’ll be using your evaluation skills in everything from decision-making to performance reviews. To hone your good judgment, get familiar with your organization's goals and team criteria, as well as measures and metrics for success. You’ll also need to address any unconscious biases you might have that could hinder your ability to objectively evaluate the soundness of a decision or the performance of a team member.


Which people management skills do you want to hone?

We’d be shocked if anyone reading this article is nailing all 22 people management skills right now (but if you are, go you!). The truth is, every leader can work on improving their abilities on a daily basis. So pick one skill from this list and get to it!


Need help assessing your strengths and blind spots as a leader? Take our free F4S assessment today.

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