Average managers play checkers. Great managers play chess.
The Harvard Business Review crafted this unusual analogy in a 2022 research paper. There’s a reason for this explanation. In checkers, the pieces are all uniform and move in the same direction. You just need to co-ordinate their movements, but they’re all moving at the same pace. However, chess is another kettle of fish altogether. Each piece moves differently. You can’t play if you don’t know the moves and the power of each piece. Moreover, you need to plan each move in such a way that you still win. And that, is the essential power of a great manager. They need to be aware of the unique abilities of each employee, create an effective team and craft their way to victory.
So, how does a good manager play the game of chess? What sets them apart from an average manager, who often dwindles into the territory of a bad boss?
UAE-based managers and leadership experts explain from experience what really constitutes effective management.
It’s not about controlling your team; it’s about trusting them
She thought that being a manager meant having all the answers and making decisions.
It has been a long journey of learning for Dubai-based Alefiyah Johar, who owns her own cosmetic and skincare business. “I’ve now realised that effective leadership revolves around empowerment. Earlier in my career, I thought that being a manager meant having all the answers and making decisions. I believed that my team needed me to be the expert in everything,” she says.
However, she discovered that this approach was far too exhausting as it was limiting for her team. “They had valuable insights that I had not tapped into. It was when I started to let go of the need to control every aspect and started empowering my team that I saw remarkable changes,” says Johar. She provided support and guidance, when necessary, while also trusting them to discover their own solutions. “This led to increased morale and productivity reached new heights. My team developed a sense of pride and ownership in their work that I could not have imposed,” she adds.
I’ve now realised that effective leadership revolves around empowerment. Earlier in my career, I thought that being a manager meant having all the answers and making decisions. I believed that my team needed me to be the expert in everything
For Johar, empowering her team no longer was just a management style; she saw that it also pushed her team to become the best versions of themselves. In short, provide your team with flexibility and autonomy; work towards creating a workplace culture that fosters a healthy work-life balance. “If they feel more revitalised in their private life, they have a better drive to be more productive in the workplace,” she says.
Leading and managing
In order to become an effective manager, you need to be committed to developing essential leadership skills.
Dubai-based Nikki McLeary, a human performance scientist and wellness expert says that anyone can be a leader; no one is a born one. However, in order to do so, a person needs to cultivate a series of crucial skills. “Take accountability. If you have a team, you have a responsibility to lead them in a way that shows due diligence. Understand the importance of training your leadership skills,” she says. What do these leadership skills entail? It involves analytical thinking, innovation, complex problem-solving, emotional intelligence, persusasion and negotiation, as well as building resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, she says. These skills are the sign of an inspiring leader. A great manager needs to train themselves with this skillset in order to be seen as a leader who inspires a team.
The terms managers and leaders are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same, even though they’re complementary. You can be a manager, but not necessarily a leader. Managers assign people tasks, whereas leaders will aim to get the best out of their team, by making sure they use their talent and skills. A leader has a vision, whereas a manager has goals.
Take accountability. If you have a team, you have a responsibility to lead them in a way that shows due diligence. Understand the importance of training your leadership skills
And so, a good manager has the skills of a leader and doesn’t only focus on the short-term goals that are concerned with deliverable outputs, planning and organisation, as explained by the Harvard Business Review. They also influence others to achieve their goals and objectives and think ahead. By building and honing the required skillset, which also includes honesty, fostering trust and team growth, you not only grow as a manager, you become an effective leader, say the experts in consensus.
Cassie Hill, a British Abu Dhabi-based beauty entrepreneur and wellness mindset coach, emphasises the importance of being honest with the team, yet in an empathetic manner. “People pride themselves on being ‘brutally’ honest, but that can actually be just bullying. If you don’t like the way your employee has done something, let them know, but phrase it in such a manner that they know how to improve themselves for the future. Nothing comes from being cruel and thinking you’ve sent the point across to people,” she says.
Be transparent, advises Hill, yet while empathising with them. This does not mean that you should evade having difficult conversations with your team, as that creates further problems in the long run. “Keep the door open, and have straightforward conversations. This fosters an environment of respect,” says Hill.
Hill also explains that an effective manager should take time out to build a healthy relationship with each teammate, so that they learn the skills that each person has, and what they need to work on. This also creates a sense of belonging in the team. The drive towards the goals becomes stronger and boosts their morale.
Moreover, the relationship goes both ways. “Get them to share their opinions and views with you and seek feedback from them. Choose to act on what you think makes sense, which shows them that their opinions matter,” explains Hill.
Set clear goals that align with your vision
It’s one thing to explain your goals to your team. However, these ideas shouldn’t remain in the abstract; they need to materialise. Amit Singh, who is the head of human resources at Aster Healthcare, explains that effective management aren’t just words on paper, but are matched with strategies as well. Every member of a team needs to understand their role in achieving the vision and should be able to track their progress towards it. An effective manager needs to measure and evaluate the performance of each member and how it impacts the overall progress of the team.
You need to be invested in your team, beyond the daily gruel, says Hill. You need to examine their strengths, weaknesses and career aspirations, which will drive them towards their goal. “The problem is when managers start fearing that their employees are so well-trained that they can leave the organisation. That’s the wrong mentality,” says Hill. “They need to be encouraged to grow, rather than being discouraged to leave and staying in the same role for extended periods of time, when they feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled,” she says.