How do I improve my management skills?

I’ve been a manager for a couple of years now and had to learn management and leadership skills on the job and by watching other managers. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. Yet between the books on the market and the Internet, I’m overwhelmed as to how to improve my leadership skills. Since many of your readers are managers and executives, I thought they’d be a good resource to tap into. So should I pursue a degree in management, take a certain type of class, reach for the books or what?

Frances, Trial-by-fire Manager


Summary of Advice Received


Power Up Your Management Skills
Helping your team of one succeed
by Meryl K. Evans, Editor, Professional Services Journal

Athletes have it easy. They practice good form to help them improve different skills needed to excel in their sport. They also have a coach who guides them and teammates who provide feedback. For leaders and managers, it’s a different story. They need to develop a variety of skills and have no official coach.

So how do you practice good management “form?” Readers and experts deliver a variety of options to improve your management skills. Which one to follow depends on your goal. Do you want to improve leadership skills? Management skills? Technical knowledge? Career advancement? It also depends on your learning style. What’s the best way for you to learn?

The advice falls into these areas:

  • Do a self-evaluation.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Pursue a formal education.
  • Learn from others.
  • Value employees.

Share your experiences and tips for becoming a better manager by joining the conversation and leaving a comment. Or ask your own question.

Do a self-evaluation

An honest self-evaluation will highlight the areas you need to work on and where you excel. Many 360-degree assessment tools can also reveal your preferences, styles and approach. “Talk with executives, managers, peers and those who work for you to determine their perceptions of your leadership abilities. Be open and willing to act on what feedback you receive,” says Lisa Boesen. “Evaluate your own personal values and create a leadership mission statement. This will be your compass as you lead others.”

The free Managing People Better self-assessment gauges the strengths and weaknesses of your current management approach and provides a free report of specific recommendations for improvement, according to Leigh Steere, co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC. “Your company may have its own custom instrument,” Steere says.

Educate yourself

Many readers recommend reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Other book suggestions include What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith and The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard. One reader recommends a business summary service like getAbstract, which provides leadership and management books condensed into five pages.

Clinical Psychologist David Fazzari, PhD, recommends a podcast called “Manager Tools” that’s available in iTunes, or you can search for it. Fazzari says, “The hosts are engaging, knowledgeable, but most importantly, every single podcast provides step-by-step suggestions that you can start applying at work right away.”

Anand Bhatt, CEO of Sonic Wave International Entertainment, has a degree in management and believes it was a waste. Instead, Bhatt suggests looking into the course requirements at a university, buying the books for a selected course and studying on your own.

Pursue a formal education

Several readers appreciated their formal education. Andrew Matheson, director, Global Services & Support EMEA, has decided to pursue an MBA because experience didn’t fill in the gaps in knowledge. “I also believe that books AND working with peers gives you the best experience. Books can give you the theory and the use cases, but you can tap into different ideas and methods only through working with real people,” says Matheson.

A formal education offers more than access to professors. John White, general manager of BestEssayHelp, says, “It will provide you with both theoretical and practical knowledge as well as give you an opportunity to communicate with other real-life managers and people involved in this particular field. You will have lots of opportunities to gain knowledge and practice.”

“Unequivocal yes, get the degree in management! Not having the degree, either a bachelor’s or master’s, will haunt you throughout your career,” says Bill Burnett, partner at Tailwind Discovery Group.

Other places offer high-quality training such as the management courses from the American Management Association (AMA). Joann Perahia of Systemic Solutions, Inc. mentions that the AMA also shares good reading resources. “I feel the AMA is the best out there, and it’s worth your money. I found their classes better than graduate school.”

Learn from others

In the same way that learning from fellow students in a university setting enriches your education, mentors can do the same. “Management classes help people learn the skills they need, but it is an 11-week commitment, says Harriet Cohen, founder of Training Solutions. “Books help, but the best solution is to find a role model and ask him or her to be your mentor.”

If you can’t find a mentor, take advantage of the people around you by asking questions. Greg Meyer, customer experience manager of Gist at Research in Motion, says “A non-traditional approach I’ve used is to ask the most successful people I meet the following question: ‘what’s the one thing you would recommend that I do to be successful?'” This approach gives you a diversity of responses. “You’ll always have a great icebreaker to any conversation and will make some new friends to boot!” says Meyer.

A mentor requires finding the right person, and that person has to be willing to spend time mentoring. Barbara Roche, executive coach at Right Management, proposes hiring a coach. “You will gain more insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a manager and gain more traction in your leadership development with a coach,” says Roche. For information on coaching and finding one that meets you needs, check out International Coach Federation (coachfederation.org) and Corporate Coach U (www.ccui.com).

One person shares how he took advantage of his speedy journey from sandwich assembly to management. “I was lucky enough to work for three managers with different approaches. I paid careful attention to their action (and inactions!), as well as what they said or didn’t say. As I moved into management, my personal catalog of successful management actions that I had seen kicked in,” says Dr. Bob Preziosi, management chair of Nova Southeastern University’s Huizenga School of Business. “My observations had become my managerial action set.” Preziosi has often applied the actions from the manager he most admired. “He had been the most successful with his people according to what I had observed. A couple of college courses in economics and psychology were also valuable to my management skills growth.”

Whether you want to improve at managing upstream or downstream can determine which approach works best. Mitch Turck, CEO, KarmaFile, explains that managing up is about interacting with clients and superiors while managing down is interacting with your team and the people who come to you for support. Mastering upstream management relies on raw experience, and a degree helps some. “But the most value you’ll get out of additional schooling for your purposes is in learning corporate finance. In any given company, chances are high that the majority of executives have some sort of finance background,” says Turck.

For managing downstream and learning people skills, Turck believes a graduate degree isn’t the way to go. Instead, look to non-business disciplines such as basic sales strategies, behavioral psychology and philosophy.

Value employees

Valuing employees sounds unbelievable, but when you treat others as you want to be treated, you get the results you want. Cyndi Laurin, PhD, founder of Guide to Greatness, LLC, has talked to many leaders including Ford CEO Alan Mullaly and Seattle’s World Famous Pike Place Fish Markets Owner John Yokoyama. Laurin has found they all have one common theme: trusting and valuing their people.

“When a leader trusts and values the people around him or her, the culture reflects this and operates as a mini-democracy where employees have a voice to share ideas and the ability to implement viable ones. This culture is further reflected in how employees treat customers, which ultimately impacts the bottom line. The most difficult aspects of leadership are intangible and generally not directly tied to the bottom line,” says Laurin.

You also value employees by listening to them, both those you report to and those who report to you. “Focus on how you can improve their positions every day. To do that, you’ll find ‘personal homework’ issues arise: handle them. You’ll find questions about your industry and about leadership: answer them. You’ll see people who are getting it right: ask how,” says Dr. Joni Carley, coach and consultant with Leaderful Edge.

Many people forget there’s a difference between leadership and management. Understanding what each means will ensure you take the best route for you. “Management is about technique and doing things right. Leadership is about having a vision for your team/organization, and doing the right things. You lead from your values and your integrity. You create a compelling vision of the future and enroll others to make it happen, because they believe in it, too, and want to join in. Leadership comes from your heart, management comes from your head,” says David Kaiser, PhD, executive coach.

What other ways can someone improve leadership or management skills? Facing other work challenges? Ask a question.


About the editor

Meryl K. Evans is senior editor at InternetVIZ and the content maven behind the Connected Digest, IT Solutions Journal and Professional Services Journal. Follow her on Twitter @merylkevans.

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