7 ways to be an effective people manager and leader

There’s a difference between management and leadership but the roles are generally interchangeable for most and the terms, manager and leaders are used interchangeably in this article  So regardless of whether you’re a manager of employees or a manager of managers, there are a number of qualities that an effective people manager and leader needs to build successful relationships with their employees.  

There are so many characteristics and there’s not a definitive set of behaviours that characterised what and how every leader should be.  These behaviours tend to vary by organisation, industry sectors, cultures and values.  Researchers such as Lominger Leadership Architect have attempted to group the trends in key leadership behaviours, but many organisations logically include additional behaviours to reflect the leadership characteristics that they want to see in their organisations based on their organisational culture, economic business environment and strategic direction.

Every commentator will attempt to define what behaviours positively drives and impacts employee and organisational performance, and similarly based on my experience and observations of leaders working at their best and their worst; here are the 7 ways (values, functions and behaviours) that I believe helps effective people managers and leaders (leaders of managers and people managers) to operate effectively from the outset of their relationship with them.


Many researchers such as Lencioni and most recently Kim Scott have shared that this is the foundation of all people relationships, so it will come as no surprise.  Zak’s (2001) study even derived a mathematical relationship between trust and economic performance.  The importance of trust can be found across industries, when we consider the impact that it has on consumer behaviour, sustaining wellbeing and economic development.  PwC (2016) in their CEO report stated that 55% of leaders believe that a lack of trust in the workplace constitutes a foundational threat to their company. 

Everything derives from trust and that’s the foundations that we build every relationship.  Effective people managers and leaders need to establish trust with their employees by

This may appear to be an exhaustive list that may seem difficult to achieve but these behaviours are the foundations of many authentic relationships with others.  When people are open, honest, try to understand others and show some vulnerability by admitting their mistakes; this helps to build relationships.  If a leaders feel that they can’t practice these behaviours, it’s usually the result of a number of factors such as how they’ve been managed in their past or even currently, due to practices and beliefs in their current organisation culture, or even how they’ve been socialised and developed as individuals to date.


Every team will have a diverse set of strengths and motivations but it’s always important to understand your employee’s, in terms of their skills set, strengths, their motivations (both in their free time outside of work and what kind of work motivations them at work), and then build a team that allows each member to thrive.  Effective people managers and leaders should take the time to understand and identify individual team strengths and to understand the wants and motivations in their teams

You may not inherit a perfect team that ticks every box that you want.  But once you understand the profile of your team and they’re actively exploiting their strengths, you can identify and recruit employees who can fill certain gaps, and even provide development opportunities for those with potential and an interest in you to build their skills set to close those gaps and enable the entire team to function at its best. 

In an ideal world encouraging your current team in their strengths while building your team for the future build a team; where everyone understands their strength, how those strength benefit the team and their objectives, who utilise those strengths in their work under the support, belief and guidance of their manager and leader perform and deliver results.

Some of you may think, isn’t this self-explanatory and a common process but I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the case.  I’ve observed leaders taking the time to understand a team’s strengths, favouring stories or gossips about their team’s skills especially early on in their relationship, which results in bias where they’re more likely to notice behaviour that confirms what they’ve heard, leads to a lack of trust, blame and an uncomfortable working environment. 

Some may feel that they’ve inherited a set of poorly performing employees and sometimes there is some truth in that but it’s really important that leaders are genuinely positive and believe in their team, where they allow those team members to share what their strengths are, where they can improve and are given the opportunity to improve that.  If those employees are still not performing well, there should be frank but empathetic conversations, and I’ve observed that in many cases those conversations have led to employees leaving their team with the support of their manager.


I believe and observed that this can be a game-changer within teams.  Every team member needs to have a role that clearly defined when they understand what they’re accountable for, how their role contributes to the overall team and or organisational goal.  Every team member needs to be held accountable for their deliverables by having the right systems and processes in place. 

Most importantly, each team member should have both an formal and informal psychological agreement through discussions on what each employee need to achieve and the impact that non-delivery has on the perception of their performance and their wider team.   I’ve witnessed how a lack of role clarity builds distrust, secrecy, conflict, anxiety, accusations of favouritism or poor management and leadership amongst colleagues erodes teams. 

Teams excel when they understand their role and expectations, the role of their colleagues, and how everyone’s role contributes to the success of their team.  Role clarity engenders pride and motivation in employees, as they can operate on their own terms and make their role their own; within the parameters of their role. 

When team members understand their role and how it fits into the bigger picture of their team, it allows them to visualise their current state of performance and where they need to be.  When they understand how all roles across their team form and contribute to the cogs in the entire machine, they also understand what they need to do and perform in other roles, if they want to progress in the particular organisation.  

Having a lack of role definition and accountability means that teams can’t succeed as they don’t understand what position they’re playing on the pitch, so they can build on what they have; let alone innovate, improve and change.  Managers and leaders play a clear role in achieving role clarity, definition and accountability within their teams, so they operate at their best. 

Occasionally, I’ve observed that this amount of transparency and accountability can be unsettling for employees, managers and leaders alike but if an organisation genuinely wants to achieve and progress towards their goals, they have to operate effectively. 


Again this may be perceived as self-explanatory but I’ve seen many teams fail as a result of managers and leaders not understand their teams on a personal level.  And it may sound counterproductive but effective people managers and leaders should solicit this dialogue to happen but be mindful that employees can only be how they desired to be in the workplace and only disclose what’s comfortable for themselves. 

So, people managers are basically getting to know people on their own terms, where they disclose only what they want to disclose.  I’ve witnessed people managers forcing relationships or information sharing on their terms and based on what they’re happy to disclose and it’s destroyed working relationships from the outset. 

So I would always recommend that people managers share with their team, that they would like to get to know on their terms and why learning about each other will help them to function.  Share that employees should only disclose what they wish and even if you share more than they do, they are under no obligation to share any more but that they should share in an effort to build a relationship. 

Asking your employees to disclose personal information can be difficult, especially early in a relationship; so even beginning by encouraging employees to share who they are at work can help manager to build that initial relationships with them. 

When a people manager understands their team in terms of their needs, wants, interests, their experiences at work with good and bad management, what they find uncomfortable in the workplace, what makes them operate at their best; can solidify a relationship that can lead to further disclosure, although that’s not the sole aim as people can share what they like. 

Effective people managers and leaders should always go first and share their career history and background, their experiences good and bad, what has or even what currently motivates them, their needs, interests, expectations, team vision and goals. 

However, sometimes this doesn’t happen.  People managers can occasionally not take this opportunity to build a rapport, it can be a simple exercise for some that’s not taken seriously or carried out genuinely.  I’ve witnessed many manager’s not even attempt to build a rapport.  This usually led to a visit to HR at a later stage, when the lack of communication, mutual understanding and a poor relationship between an employee and their manager festers and leads to performance and conduct issues down the line. 

People managers should enter any discussions where they try to be non-judgemental and ensure that they don’t make assumptions about what the other person says.  However, if an employee does say something that goes against their values or they disclose something that they dislike then they should ask for further clarification to understand where their comment stems from.  Asking clarifying questions in a non-judgemental way allows you to understand that person and their ways of thinking better. 

Sometimes as a people manager, you may disagree with what the other person says but if this is based on both parties having, e.g. differing values, opinions and experiences, then it’s still important to be non-judgemental, as best as you can and be thankful you understand that person more, and in some cases it may be helpful to as over time you’ll be able to anticipate their behaviour and likely responses in certain situations. 

What is more, diversity, inclusion and equality has shown us that every individual can think of a situation, when they’ve been in the minority.  Sometimes we have to accept people’s differences, so asking questions and understanding people’s point of views enables us to do that. 


This relates to building and understanding personal accountability.  Every people managers and leader should understand what are the expectations of their role are and what will enable them to be successful, and they shouldn’t move from this. 

At the beginning of this article, I stated that there is a difference between managers and leaders; and it’s very common for managers and leaders when they’re making a transition to a role that they’ll experience some uncertainty and in many cases default to the safety of how they operated in their previous role. 

So, if they’ve new to manager, they may become an implementor again or even take on a role of a player-manager.  Although, defaulting a player manager role to support your team when they’re under pressure is fine in some cases; as long as you don’t permanently play this role. 

And if a manager is new to managing managers, they may default to directing or making decisions on behalf of a manager when they should allow that manager to manage for themselves.  All the scenarios above and many more, where the manager or leader doesn’t operate in their role correctly impacts the team. 

Another challenge is for people managers to consistently understand their role as directing and influencing others.  All team members should receive the credit for the work that they do and the contribute that they make and managers and leaders should be to the forefront of doing that and they shouldn’t take credit for implementing or managing a task, if they didn’t do it and it’s not actually part of their responsibilities. 

In a front-line position or in a position where you’re responsible for implementing task, independently or under supervision; you’ve delivered and achieved that task even under the management and leadership of others.  Managers and leaders are involved and consulted on those tasks but they are not the implementors, and they should understand that and see that their value has comes from their leadership and direction, and not delivery. 

I’ve witnessed many managers and leaders take responsibility for implementing tasks that their employees have completed either under their guidance or independently. I’ve even seen managers and leaders take on projects leading them in the later stages when the summit is visible and then not acknowledge the initial work completed within their teams. 

Sometimes this need to highlight a personal achievement and gain credit comes from individual perceptions of what it means to achieve results, the need for validation and to tangibly evidence their contribution.   As you can imagine, these scenarios do not occur when projects do not deliver their expected results.  As a result, a lack of personal role clarity then erodes everything that I have discussed above in terms of trust, team role clarity and clear accountability.  People managers need to use the words, ‘We’ or ‘They’ more than the word ‘I.’

But in support of people managers, in many cases, this can happen due to other’s providing a lack of role clarity, having unclear expectation of them and similarly there can be a lack of understanding of deliverables and expectations higher up the ladder.  In some cultures, unless people managers really understand their role, many of them can struggle to understand what’s expected of them as people managers and what success look like. 

And that’s why it’s so important that everyone up and down the organisation understands each other’s roles and expectations.  In many organisations, individual contributors and employees are openly given clarity but people managers are not, with many roles and responsibilities overlapping with their employees or not existing at all.  This can lead to people managers feeling insecure, anxious and not operating effectively.

When everyone understands their roles and what they’re accountable for, even employees understanding what’s expected of their manager, its fosters adult relationships and enables everyone to have a drone view of how the organisational strategy is delivered at every level.  It prevents employees from arguing that they don’t understand what they’re manager does and what their purpose is, which I’ve witnessed in many organisations.  As I’ve mentioned, this shared understanding also encourages people development. as there is clarity about roles and expectations at each level of an organisation. 

However, this can be hard to implement as it’s usually present in organisation’s that are highly transparent with a mature business model.  Early in my career, I worked with an organisation; where this clarity and ownership of the organisational strategy was present and shared at every level, from the employees working on the reception desk up to the senior leadership.  Everyone felt involved and contributed to the company’s mission, and the company was a fantastic place to work in. 

So, in conclusion, a people manager’s relationship with their team can be complex and many researchers and commentators will argue what behaviours and functions people managers should possess.  But based on my experiences working across sectors with people managers, I’ve observed that if in the early stages of a relationship; building trust, getting to know your team, believing in your team, giving your team clear roles and responsibilities where everyone accountable; and being clear on the parameters of your own role as an effective people manager and leader is a great foundation to build a successful team from.   

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