Being a manager is an incredibly tough job. Being a great one is tougher. Just consider the vast array of knowledge and skills it takes to deal with a variety of people, tasks, and the needs of your particular company. In fact, we say that, ideally, managers should know between 90 and 120 individual skills. That's a lot. But thankfully you don't have to tackle them all at once. Just zero in on the most critical ones and master them first.
You develop these skills over the course of your career. With each new skill you master, you'll notice your confidence and ability levels rising. But it's a good idea to start with the ones that give you a good, solid foundation to build on.
Stumped on where to begin? We suggest working on the most crucial skills first—the ones managers worldwide value and recommend. To get you started, here are the highest ranked skills from the survey, presented in descending order.
Skill #10: Developing emotional intelligence.
Recommended by 72.1% of managers surveyed.
All managers need emotional intelligence to be effective. This means having the self-awareness, self-control, motivation, empathy, and social skills needed to behave in a mature, wise, empathetic way with the people around you. Emotionally intelligent managers are a joy to work with, which is why they attract and retain the best people.
Skill #9: Building trust within your team.
Recommended by 73.3% of managers surveyed.
When people don't trust one another in a team, they waste a huge amount of time politicking and covering their own backs. By contrast, people in trusting teams work efficiently and well, and they can deliver wonderful results. To build trust, you need to lead by example, communicate honestly and openly, get to know individuals as people, avoid blame, and discourage behaviors that breach trust.
Skill #8: Understanding and developing your relationship with your customer.
Recommended by 73.6% of managers surveyed.
The way you do this depends on whether you serve consumer or business markets. When you're dealing with consumers, you'll get great insights into customer groups by segmenting your market and by developing customer personas representing these different segments. You can then use approaches like customer experience mapping to give them an exceptional experience of using your organization.
Where you're serving a small number of highly important clients, this is where sales skills are important. And while selling is a profession in its own right, non-salespeople can also master these skills and use them to improve customer relationships.
Skill #7: Developing new ideas through an empathetic understanding of customers' problems.
Recommended by 74.4% of managers surveyed.
A vast number of products and services now sell based on customer ratings and reviews. To get top reviews, it's not enough to provide something that "does the job" adequately. You need to provide something that meets the needs of customers exceptionally well. Approaches like design thinking and ethnographic research can help you develop highly satisfying products, and customer experience mapping can help you develop a great "customer journey."
Skill #6: Bringing people together to solve problems.
Recommended by 75.0% of managers surveyed.
It's often tempting to try to solve problems on your own. But there are very many reasons why it pays to bring together a team of experienced people. Brainstorming is popular for this, but it also pays to understand structured problem-solving processes, know how to facilitate meetings well, and manage the sometimes weird group dynamics that can undermine a good team process.
Skill #5: Understanding the needs of different stakeholders and communicating with them appropriately.
Recommended by 75.8% of managers surveyed.
As you run bigger projects, it becomes increasingly important to manage the many different groups of people who can support or undermine the work you do. This is where it's important to develop good stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management skills. These really matter.
Skill #4: Understanding the key principles of good communication.
Recommended by 77.7% of managers surveyed.
Management is about getting things done by working with people. You can do this only if you communicate effectively. This is where the 7 Cs of Communication—clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, courteous—can help you get your message through more clearly.
Skill #3: Considering many factors, such as opportunities, risks, reactions, and ethics, in decision-making.
Recommended by 77.8% of managers surveyed.
We've all seen how bad decisions can be when they're rushed, or when financial criteria are the only ones that are used. This is why it pays to use a formal, structured process to think a problem through thoroughly, including analyzing risk and exploring ethical considerations. The ORAPAPA framework—which stands for Opportunities, Risks, Alternatives and Improvements, Past Experience, Analysis, People, and Alignment and Ethics—is a good example.
Skill #2: Prioritizing tasks effectively for yourself and your team.
Recommended by 79.5% of managers surveyed.
All of us have a huge number of things that we want to do or have to do. The demands can often seem overwhelming, to us and the members of our team. This is why prioritization is the second most important management skill, as ranked by the participants in our survey. There's a particularly useful approach to this called the Action Priority Matrix, and every manager needs to know about it!
Skill #1: Building good working relationships with people at all levels.
Recommended by 79.9% of managers surveyed.
The most important management skill, as ranked by our 15,242 managers worldwide, is the ability to build good relationships with people at all levels. For example, there's a particularly elegant approach to relationship-building, which focuses on creating "high-quality connections," made up of respectful engagement, "task enablement," and trust-building.
Even if you already feel like you have some of these skills, know that there is always more to learn, and the results will show in your improved leadership. Practice them until they become effortless, and, in time, not only will you perform better, you'll get better results from your team and stand out as a talented leader within your organization. iBi
James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw are coauthors of Mind Tools for Managers: 100 Ways to Be a Better Boss Manktelow is founder and CEO of MindTools.com. Birkinshaw is deputy dean for programs at London Business School.