“Good responses to interview questions about how I would best manage people?”

Question: In my previous jobs I did not manage staff. My previous jobs have been devoted to influencing stakeholders across the company. Now I have an upcoming interview, and would really love your advice on the following: how to best respond to this question: “If you are hired as a manager, how would you interact and engage with team members?” Many Thanks, and Kind Regards,

Sydney, Australia

Answer: Dear Valeria: I cannot remember the last time I was asked about ways to manage staff,  but since you have asked this in the context of “interview questions,” and good managing is a part of being a valuable employee, let me give your question my best try.     

1. Convey Competence: Conveying confidence and competence is perhaps the first way a manager can garner respect, admiration, cooperation, enthusiasm and productivity from his or her staff. I have read many studies that show that employees actually want to look up to their managers, and easily become disillusioned, disgruntled and dismayed if they believe their managers suffer from a lack of confidence or insufficient competence. Boasting and bragging don’t do the trick: wise and steady actions and thoughtful and respectful attitude are what matter. Perhaps this is the true derivation of the phrase “Managing By Example.”     

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2. Set Clear Goals: Setting clear and achievable objectives and goals helps staff members establish their own daily priorities, focus their attention, and stay on course. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, chances are you’ll never get there, and even if you do, you will never know if you have arrived.” People like to have a sense of direction in their lives, especially if their direction is one that makes sense to them. On the other hand, aimless efforts lead to great frustration. Good managers bear that in mind, and set clear goals that all efforts can be directed toward. Greater satisfaction and productivity almost always follow.

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3. Establish Boundaries: Some people think that managers and staff members should be good buddies, fast friends, and close companions. I don’t. To be effective, team leaders need to be at least a little different from the team, and walk slightly in front of them. To be effective in supervision, to be respected enough to set direction, and to make the difficult decisions that sometimes have to be made, a manager needs a little “distance.” That does not mean I favor aloofness; I don’t. And, surely, I don’t mean to suggest a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Neither works well in management. But establishing and maintaining a limited degree of boundaries is quite useful in good management of teams. Simply put, “The coach can’t be one of the players.”

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4. Equal Opportunity, but Equal Accountability, too. In articles about “good management,” you often see the word “fairness” used. I don’t like to use that word because I think it sometimes gives the wrong message: that everyone will be treated “fairly.” Fairness in the minds of all people is nearly impossible to achieve. What is “fair” for one is simply not “fair” for others.

Instead, equal opportunities to prosper and grow, and equal accountability when mistakes or malfeasance occur, are what employees appreciate. Not coincidentally, that is what, in general, the law requires: equal opportunity and equal accountability, no matter who is friends with who, and no matter who is one “kind” or another. 

5. We all “Long to Belong.Ever wonder why so many people put bumper stickers on their car bumpers? If there is one component of management skills that is so often overlooked, it is an appeal to the strong need we all have to “belong” to something. A family, a team, a neighborhood, a company, one type of association or another. Good managers recognize that, and include “team meetings” and “group get-togethers” to foster a sense of belonging to a group. It is something like a mini “company outing.” These things do work, and without much fanfare, actually do improve employee morale, encourage employee retention, and motivate employee productivity.

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Valeria, hope this helps you. At a very minimum, these ideas may show  you are thinking about how you can best manage others, and are looking forward to the challenge.

Thanks for writing in!

My Best,
Al Sklover

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