Creative Success, LLC

People Skills for Positive Managers

Gail McMeekin

Are you currently a manager or an aspiring one? As a positive leader, you have the potential to foster the growth of your employees in line with the goals of the organization.

The difference between a winning and a losing team depends on a positive management style. A positive manager coaches and empowers others to succeed in their jobs. By facilitating a work environment in which people are willing to cooperate to achieve common goals, productivity soars.

Outstanding interpersonal or people skills are essential for your effectiveness as a leader. Learning to listen, train, coach, advise, and inspire become essential communication skills for notable managers. Your management style expresses your genuineness and integrity as a person. If you are a liar and dishonest, you will not be trusted for long. Successful managers, above all, treat their employees with respect.

Role Models

In my training sessions with managers, everyone can recall being the victim of a lousy manager. But not everyone has been fortunate enough to work under a positive one. If you have had a great manager, think back to why the person was liked and effective. For sure, this person made a personal connection with you. That’s what you want to do with your employees; make them feel important to you and the company. If you don’t have the experience of a constructive role model, look for admirable managers in other parts of your company or among your peers. Good managers demonstrate achievements in planning, recruiting, organizing, directing, training, and conflict resolution. Technical competence in your field is vital, but interpersonal excellence really counts.

Good leaders are not necessarily always nice. There’s a good reason for that old expression “it’s lonely at the top”. You can’t gossip in the same way with your cronies or disclose “all you know”. Disciplining employees and enforcing policies and quality standards are all key ingredients of your job. You can be fair and professional but you won’t always be popular. If you are a solo manager in your company, find other managers at your level inside or outside the company and share expertise. If that’s not possible, get a management coach or take advantage of the available books, videos, audiotapes, and training programs. Also, as a manager, you become a role model. If you’re late every day, how can you complain if Sherry is? You have a responsibility to the managers of the future to demonstrate the best management skills that you can. You are being watched.

Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, being a manager will put them to the test. If you are disorganized, watch out! Your employees may take advantage of the fact that you don’t remember when a project is due. If you are insecure, your employees may try to manipulate you. If you’re too laid back, people may take advantage of you. To to become a positive manager, you must do a self assessment. Play on your strengths and experience and make a plan to manage your weaknesses. Bobby Sue was a superb manager but weak in the budget department. She bounced checks and overspent on supplies and once had paychecks delayed as the account was overdrawn. Her spaciness around money worried her employees and lowed her esteem in their eyes. She either needed to learn these financial management skills or delegate these responsibilities to a competent other. She choose to take classes and meet regularly with the comptroller of her company to earn back the respect she wanted. Admit to yourself what you need to work on and then do it.

The Power of Positive Recognition

In job satisfaction surveys of employees, their number one wish is positive recognition for their work. People want authentic praise for their efforts. Make a point of acknowledging your employees regularly. A “thank you” or a congratulatory memo on a job well done work like a charm for morale and motivation. In addition, you need to analyze your work culture. Are you getting positive accolades from your boss? Are people in the organization upbeat or demoralized? Is the company growing or stagnant? Is management well organized and strategically on the mark? Is corporate communication clear or secretive? How is the company viewed by the community? Are people proud to be affiliated with this company? You are not managing in a vacuum. It’s hard to be a great manager in a lousy company. You generally can’t create a total oasis for yourself and your employees. If you’re feeling unappreciated and resentful of a high percentage of management practices, then how can you be a cheerleader for that team? You are an advocate for your employees and while you can’t expect to win every battle, you want to at least feel you have a fighting chance.

Unhappy managers cannot inspire much except job turnover. So ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your personal and professional goals and are they being met in your current job?
  2. How would you reorganize your job/department to better meet your goals?
  3. Do you agree with the goals of your organization?
  4. Is your organization a positive work environment that rewards employees and fosters their career development?
  5. How equipped is your company and your industry to compete successfully in the global marketplace?
  6. What are the major challenges/problems in your company and department?
  7. What changes can you propose to improve the work environment for your employees?

If you feel like a fraud every time you implement a corporate policy, your employees will feel it. It’s best to work for a company in alignment with your goals and values so you can support its direction and mandates.

Management Communications

To be a positive manager, you need to deepen your knowledge of management communications in the areas of discipline, coaching for improved job performance, delegation, and coaching for career development. Start with a plan for your department. Then you hire and train employees to perform specific job descriptions. Monitoring their performance, you communicate regularly with employees, giving them both positive and negative feedback. Then you coach them with the goal of either improving their performance or enhancing their career growth. Annually, you review this cycle with a performance review. If you don’t talk to your employees all year and then try to conduct a meaningful performance review, you’ve missed a year of opportunities.

Job Descriptions

Before you begin any intervention with an employee, make sure that he/she has an up-to-date, comprehensive job description. Don’t leave that task to human resources. Create a working document with each employee so that expectations are clear and current. If an employee doesn’t have a job description, ask him/her to keep a log of all work activities for one month. Simultaneously, you write a draft of your view of their job responsibilities and the evaluation criteria. Then compare the two documents and the ensuing discussion will help you to compose an accurate picture. Detailed job descriptions save you from numerous personnel problems and communication breakdowns.


Managers often hesitate to discipline an employee. Yet if you don’t, the rest of the team resents your cowardice. For example, Becky continuously took overly long lunches. As a customer service representative, this meant that Becky was not handling her fair share of customer calls. Her co-workers kept waiting for the manager to intervene. It is your job to make sure that work is distributed fairly. Becky’s manager, an empathic woman, knew that Becky was using her lunch break to run errands for her elderly mother. Yet, Becky’s personal dilemma was compromising the morale and coverage for the entire department. Disciplinary action was in order. To help you feel more confident, follow these six steps:

  1. Meet with the employee in private as soon after the incident as possible. Don’t let the problem fester.
  2. Outline the specific job responsibility the employee has not performed up to the expected standard. If this is an ongoing problem, keep track of what you have noticed, with dates and times if you can.
  3. Refer to the employee's job description or the company manual to clarify why this behavior is unacceptable.
  4. State clearly the required behavior in specific behavioral language. For example, you could say “Company policy states that lunch break is only 30 minutes daily”.
  5. State the reasons for the expected behavior.
  6. Let the employee know that his/her performance will be evaluated and cite the consequences of not performing the required behavior. For example, you could say “As of today, you must be back at your desk from lunch in 30 minutes or you will be required to make up the time each week. If you continue to abuse the lunch policy, you will receive a written warning.”

Discipline, unlike coaching, is meant to be swift and precise. Certainly, you can sympathize with Becky’s personal need to help her mother with errands. Yet, your job as manager is to insure that the company’s customers can reach a customer service representative quickly. If Becky’s at the drugstore, customers are not getting the service they deserve and her co-workers are being swamped with calls. You may want to take this opportunity to talk with Becky about alternatives. But it’s Becky’s job to manage her personal affairs. Always remember if you make an exception for one person, other employees will want the privilege. So you are not free to tell Becky that she can have longer lunches unless you adjust her entire schedule. Then you can expect that her co-workers will be knocking on your door for the same flexibility. Keep in mind what’s best for the department as a whole.

Preparing to Coach

A coach is a guide as well as a teacher and a motivator. Your job is to help your employees do the best job they can for the company and themselves. Balancing those two sets of needs can sometimes be tricky. A good coach converses regularly with her team. You must do the same. With a disciplinary intervention, hopefully, one discussion is enough. Coaching is a longer process. Coaching can either be for improving an employee’s job performance for an ongoing problem or it can help an employee reach a new goal or learn an advanced skill.

Let’s first begin by identifying the steps to coaching an employees for poor performance. Before you meet with the employee, fill out this pre-coaching questionnaire:

  1. Identify the specific job performance behavior you want to be changed. It is not your job to change personal characteristics of your employee. Be certain that your goal relates to a job task.
  2. Is the problem important enough to warrant your time and energy to correct it? If not, then don’t waste your time on it. For example, if Susan’s idea of a planning book is a pocketful of papers but she’s meeting all his timelines, then let it go. If the problem is important to the goals of the department, then tell the employee that you are going to meet with him/her to work on this specific problem.
  3. In your opinion, does the employee agree that this behavior is a problem? If not, then that is your first agenda item. Refer to the employee’s job description for support. If the employee agrees that he/she has a problem, then you must gain his/her commitment to resolve it. We can’t coach people who don’t want to change.
  4. Prior to the coaching interview, review these issues:

a)  Are there obstacles outside of the employee’s control that prevent him/her from performing the desired behavior?
b)  Does the employee have both the ability and the willingness to do the desired behavior?
c)  Has the employee received enough training?
d) If the employee does not improve his/her performance, what will be the consequences?
e) If the employee improves his/her behavior, what will be the rewards?

Steps for a Coaching Meeting for Improved Job Performance

Assumption: This employee understands and agrees that there is a job performance problem to be resolved.

Step One

In a private meeting with the employee, introduce the problem in a positive manner, acknowledging the employee’s other strengths in the job. ( If you have nothing positive to say about this employee, why are you keeping him/her?) Describe the problem specifically including both the undesired and desired behaviors and give examples. Ask the employee to verify and clarify the problem. Negotiate a mutual agreement on the exact problem and the desired outcome. Do not proceed until you have agreed on the goal.

Step Two

Identify and write down all possible solutions to the problem together, making sure to address the causes of the problem. Listen intently to the employee’s comments; don’t assume you have all the answers.

Step Three

Agree on a solution to the problem and write down the specific actions each of you will take and the completion dates.

Step Four

Schedule a follow-up meeting within two weeks and include how progress will be measured.

Step Five

Reinforce and review all written mutual agreements and commitments. Discuss the consequences for both the resolution and the non-resolution of this performance problem. Close on a positive note.

If you communicated clearly and listened carefully to your employee’s comments, you should have learned something.


Delegation is not dumping. Be careful not to delegate a component of your management role. Delegation can be a career opportunity for the recipient to learn new skills and diversify their career portfolio. Beware, though, that in this age of overwork if your employees are already overloaded or on the verge of burnout, their response may be less than enthusiastic. Also, be careful not to delegate all the choice assignments to one employee. Spread the challenges and try to match tasks with skill sets. Be honest with your employees about whether or not this is a job assignment which they have a choice about. Also, when you delegate, be prepared to spend the time with the employee to insure that the task is completed to your expectations. Delegation often requires a period of training to educate the employee about all the components.

Follow this framework to help the process to go more smoothly:

  1. Decide on the task to be delegated and select a person who has the capability to do the task or the ability and interest to learn it.
  2. Meet with the person selected and describe in detail the task to be done and the standards and timeline you expect. Ask the person if he/she is willing to perform the task and what assistance/training/change of responsibility he/she would need to complete the task.
  3. When the person has agreed to do the task, ask them to outline the sequence of activities with estimated completion dates and then review the plan together and make any necessary changes.
  4. Decide with the person how much assistance or freedom he/she needs and then set up interval checkpoints as needed.
  5. Be sure to build in positive recognition for a job well done!

Coaching for Career Development

Delegation is often an opportunity for you and your employee to assess talents and areas for growth. In addition, meet regularly with your employees to discuss career goals. Don’t assume that you know what your employees want; ask them. A positive manager asks key development questions such as the following:

  1. What do you like best and least about your job?
  2. What skills do you have the most and least confidence in?
  3. What are your goals for this job?
  4. What other jobs in the organization interest you and why?
  5. What did you choose this career? Is it what you expected?
  6. Do you have long-term goals in this career or interest in changing careers in the future?
  7. How can I and the organization best support you in meeting your goals and/or resolving current job problems?
  8. How do you learn best? What kinds of training experiences have you had?
  9. Are you active in professional organizations or taking courses to advance your career?
  10. What motivates you?

If you have established yourself as a manager your employees can trust, you can benefit greatly from this discussion. If the two of you agree on a set of goals, meet regularly to implement them.

In addition, the following suggestions will help you to create a career enhancing environment in your department:

  1. Encourage your employees to become active in professional organizations. Coach them to volunteer for leadership positions, committees, and speaking engagements. The visibility and networking contacts will be beneficial for all.
  2. Have your employees keep an ongoing list of their accomplishments to remind them of their achievements.
  3. Make certain that your employees have the training and support to succeed at their jobs. Also, encourage them to take advantage of all internal training opportunities and tuition reimbursement options. No one can have too many skills in today’s marketplace.
  4. Recruit a diverse staff to help your employees learn to manage teams and workplace diversity. By 2020, three-fourths of all people entering the job market will be women and minorities.
  5. Discuss career development strategies regularly with your employees as a group and encourage them to support each other's goals (allowing for confidentiality where appropriate).
  6. As both entrepreneurial and entrepreneurial skills are assets for everyone, be certain that your employees are aware of the bottom line issues in your department. Also see if there are opportunities for employees to run their own profit centers for the experience.
  7. Initiate team building activities, i.e. task forces, group research or problem-solving meetings, to foster improved ability to work in teams. Also initiate alliances with other departments in your organization to further increase these skills.

Lastly, if you don’t like being a manager, chart your career path elsewhere. Not everyone feels comfortable dealing with the intensity of relationships that being a positive manager demands. But, if managing others fulfills your mentoring and leadership longings, follow these communication guidelines to build a strong and cohesive work group and enhance your professional growth as well.

Are you struggling with the challenges of being a positive manager? We all do have tough moments as people management can be tricky! I have a special and quick executive/management development program just for you called "Become an Ace Manger" which can be done individually by telephone or live in Boston. This is an opportunity for you to get some laser consulting on your top 3 challenges as a manager and to help you to develop effective new strategies that will resolve the problems, reduce your stress, and enhance your value in your organization. You will get a copy of my chapter "Transformation for You and Your Team" and learn new tools for hiring, firing, and above all, developing the right people. In 3 hours on your time table, we will design an action plan for success for you. I have trained and coached managers for over 20 years in companies and training centers and have written several books about it as well. You don't have to do this all alone--I can help you to get back in charge!