8 CHARACTERISTICS OF A ROCKSTAR MANAGER



This article was based on episode 002 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Rockstar managers create an environment in which their team members flourish as individuals and thrive as a team. What does it take to make your team want to come to work for you every day, excited to get the work done, and ready to tackle whatever problem lies in their way?

First, let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Renowned psychologist Maslow proposed there are five tiers of human needs (see image below.) Each level is a precondition for those above it. Rockstar managers construct and influence the environment to meet the psychological and self-fulfillment needs of each team member.


Though not an exhaustive list, here are 8 characteristics that can help you transform from an unintentional manager into a rockstar manager whose team members flourish and whose teamwork exceeds expectations.

1) CULTIVATE AND DEMONSTRATE RESPECT

Respect is the foundation of great team collaboration. Without respect, it’s hard to build trust, engage in constructive debate, or enable each person to be their whole self.

Modern managers both demonstrate respect in the ways they engage with their team members, and, foster an environment of respect in which each team mate acts respectfully to one another.

Meetings are one of the most powerful venues for you to cultivate and demonstrate respect within your team. You may not realize how your actions related to meetings may be perceived as disrespectful. When you invite someone to a meeting whose participation isn’t integral to the meeting’s agenda, you’re disrespecting his time. When you allow colleagues to interrupt each other, ignore certain voices, or actively shut down debate, you perpetuate a culture of disrespect.

Instead, use your meetings to promote respect. Consider, for example, how you might make space for introverts and more quiet participants. You can actually increase participation, get broader thinking, and demonstrate respect by incorporating time for quiet brainstorming into your meetings. By encouraging each person to write their ideas down on paper which can then be shared with the group or provided to the meeting leader for later, in essence, you’ve made a public statement that you care about what each person thinks, therefore role modeling one form of respect.

“Great managers ensure each person on their team feels respected, not only by them but by every member on the team.”

2) PROVIDE AUTONOMY​

We all want to feel a sense of control over our lives. In the workplace, autonomy is complicated, because it can take so many different forms and must be balanced with the demands or constraints of the role and organization.

Autonomy can manifest in the following ways:

  • When you work

  • Where you work

  • What work you do

  • How you do your work

  • Who you work with

  • And more.

Each person prioritizes these aspects of autonomy according to their individual preference. As a rockstar manager, it’s your job to figure out what kind of autonomy matters most to each of your direct reports, and do your best to cater to those desires while maintaining a standard of excellence in the work product or results achieved.

For example, you may discover that one team member finds it empowering to be able to work from home without interruptions while another finds it distracting. Approaching autonomy as as one-size-fits all not only misses the opportunity to make each person feel a sense of autonomy, but it also can result in depressed work results.

3) BUILD CONNECTIONS

According to Dr. Ned Hallowell, a leading authority on what he calls “the human moment”, research shows that “for the majority of people, the two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting.”

Finding ways to develop a connection with each of your direct reports is critical. You don’t have to be friends with each person, but you do need to have a relationship with each person in which you know them beyond their role on your team.

It is far easier to have challenging conversations, provide and receive feedback, and address problems when you have a healthy relationship to build on. Relationships at work, especially between a boss and their team members, should maintain a level of professionalism, but talking about kids, pets, hobbies and weekend activities are all OK.

Be intentional about asking, without prying. Share your own experiences and stories first so they feel more comfortable sharing theirs. Pay attention and show you care by referencing prior conversations. It feels surprisingly good when someone remembers the name of your dog or asks about the movie you mentioned you were planning to see over the weekend.

4) SHOW APPRECIATION

Great bosses show meaningful, authentic gratitude in ways their team members appreciate. We’ve all heard the argument that goes something like “well they get paid, isn’t that appreciation enough?”

Getting paid is essential, but appreciation is equally necessary. When done inadequately, appreciation can seem disingenuous. Given we all have a preferred method of appreciation, what can seem like a simple act of gratitude may unintentionally backfire. For example, one colleague may love the spotlight while another detests it. Imagine a response to a public display of thanks going all wrong: “If she really appreciated me, she wouldn’t have embarrassed me in front of the entire team by thanking me publicly and then asking me to talk about the project when I was so unprepared.”

When you understand how each of your employees prefers to be appreciated, you can say thank you in big and small ways that are meaningful to them, which translates in to improvements in team collaboration and business results.

5) FOSTER ENJOYMENT

Simple math says that for the average working American, one third of their life will be spent on the job. What a difference it can make when someone comes to work and they find satisfaction and enjoyment in both what they do and the environment in which they are doing it. As a manager, you have influence over both.

As you build a connection with each employee, you can learn what motivates them, what work they find satisfying, and what aspirations they have for the future. Finding enjoyment in work typically comes from both feeling engaged in the work itself and comfortable in the environment.

To help your colleagues find satisfaction from the work they do, generally enable them to be in positions where they can lean into their strengths and really shine. You can also ask your employees what they want to work on. Whenever there is opportunity for choice, offer it to your team members rather than assigning it. This creates buy-in and on occasion, they may surprise you by choosing work you wouldn’t have predicted. In these cases, when someone is stretching their capabilities, it’s important to make sure that they are equipped and up for the challenge. I share more on this topic in #7 below.

To develop the environment, rockstar managers both cultivate an appropriate atmosphere and hire for culture fit. Hiring in this way does not mean only hiring one kind of person and ignoring diversity. Rather, it means celebrating diversity and hiring people who will enrich the environment instead of fight or dilute it. For some teams, a casual or playful atmosphere full of laughter is ideal. For others, a more serious attitude prevails, but you’ll still find the group geeking out together over the newest scientific discoveries in the field.

Regardless of what environment is right for your team, you can influence it to ensure each person feels they are a valued member of the team, comfortable being their full self, and enjoys their time with their colleagues.

6) COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY

Great managers must be expert communicators. As a manager, you deliver good news and bad, explain challenges, confront conflicts, and share information upwards to leadership and downwards to direct reports. You communicate with individuals and groups via meetings, email, chat, text, and documents.

In every case, it’s your responsibility to share the right information at the right time, in the ideal format with the right people so that everyone can do their best work. For example, great managers are thoughtful about when to call a meeting and when to send an email. They consider who needs to attend the meeting as opposed to who needs to be informed of the meeting’s outcomes afterwards. They share information ahead of meetings as pre-work so time together can be spent in dialogue instead of presentation.

An expert communicator also listens actively. As a manager, you need to constantly pay attention to what your colleagues and direct reports say and what they don’t say. Rockstar managers ask great questions to seek understanding before judging. Through dialogue and inquiry, you are able to bring out the best of your team’s thinking.

7) INVEST IN YOUR PEOPLE​

Modern managers see learning as an opportunity to enhance not just the individual, but the team as a whole. When you invest in your people, you enable them to grow their skills and capabilities to improve their work or take on greater challenges. Additionally, for some individuals, learning and stretching are critical to feeling satisfaction in their job.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” to describe his theory that “people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.” In order to achieve flow, the individual must have high skill and be highly challenged. As depicted in the graphic below, when challenge and skill are not matched in the optimal manner, it can result in boredom, anxiety, worry or apathy.


To help your team members find flow and optimize their contribution to achieving business results, you can support their learning journey. It starts with giving direct feedback so people know what areas need growth. Once specific areas have been identified, offer support by providing mentorship (from yourself or others), suggesting books or articles, giving time off or covering fees for workshops and trainings, and allowing them to learn while on the job and gaining experience.

"When you invest in someone’s growth and success, you build goodwill while building capability."

8) PUT THE TEAM FIRST

This may be the hardest thing for a manager to do, but it’s also what separates a good manager from a truly great one. Rockstar managers adapt their management style to what each individual team member needs. What works for one direct report may not work at all for another.

To do this well, you must understand and respond to the individual needs of each team member while keeping an eye out for the wellbeing of the team as a whole. If that sounds like quite the balancing act, it is.

Great managers have the mindset of asking, “what does my team member need to be successful with this?” They try to set each person up for success, which sometimes means giving very specific instructions and sometimes means simply pointing someone in the right direction. Knowing when to do each is a management skill that develops over time combined with deep understanding of each team member.

Putting the team first also means figuring out how to remove roadblocks, shield the team from unnecessary stress, and viewing success as a result of the team’s work. Great managers take risks to support the team, own mistakes instead of pointing blame, raise challenges to upper management to help remove roadblocks or increase resources so the team can succeed. If your team knows you’ll go to bat for them, they’re far more likely to be willing to go to bat for the team.

BEING A ROCKSTAR MANAGER IS A JOURNEY​

These are just a few of things that rockstar managers do. Like many things in life, it’s an ongoing journey in which we continually invest in ourselves to become more effective. Start by downloading the worksheet at mamieks.com/podcast-002 and subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter to receive articles, episodes and worksheets delivered weekly to your inbox. .

This article was based on episode 002 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

You can also listen to every episode here.

Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.

Leave a comment below or tweet at me @mamieks.


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