By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, Online Career Tips
Becoming a good manager requires industry experience, talent and knowledge. The people who report to you look for guidance and fairness. But at the same time, you are responsible for your team’s performance and are held accountable to your supervisors.
Start a management degree at American Public University.
The best managers pay attention to what their employees say, inspire them to create their best work and help them to feel engaged at the company. These practices are wise not only on a personal level but on a professional level. According to Forbes writer Naz Beheshti, “highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability” and “disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year.”
So how do you make yourself into an inspirational leader that earns other people’s loyalty? How do you ensure that your subordinates produce the best work they can? Sir Ernest Shackleton is a good example.
Sir Ernest Shackleton: A Gifted Manager and Inspirational Leader
Polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton was definitely a talented manager and inspirational leader. In 1914, he led a crew of 28 men on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, seeking to land on Antarctica and cross 1,800 miles over the entire continent.
Unfortunately, Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, became hopelessly trapped in pack ice and sank. Shackleton and his men were stranded in the Antarctic, a harsh and lethal environment with no hope of rescue and gradually dwindling supplies.
Eventually, Shackleton (his nickname among his men was “The Boss”) settled some of his crew on remote Elephant Island – and took five others on a perilous sea journey of 800 miles. He left some of them on South Georgia Island and reached a whaling station at Stromness with two others after a 26-mile hike across treacherous mountainous terrain. Shackleton later returned with a ship to pick up his remaining men, who had all survived.
It would have been easy for Shackleton’s men to grow out of control and fight with one another, especially in the stressful, lethal conditions they faced. But Shackleton’s good management was one of the reasons the entire crew survived.
His men stayed busy and productive, and Shackleton maintained firm and fair discipline and kept up the crew’s spirits. Shackleton had the respect of his crew, who knew that Shackleton was a dependable boss who was always concerned for the welfare of his men.
The Shackleton website notes: “Shackleton was blessed with a natural grasp of people management. For a man who never attended anything remotely like today’s business management schools, Shackleton’s instinctive style of leadership was remarkably effective. Yet today, management schools are teaching Shackleton’s methods to inspire entrepreneurs of the future.
Quite simply, he understood his men, their strengths and weaknesses and what motivated them. He also had an uncanny knack of sensing danger and invariably minimised risk. Perhaps his greatest quality was that he put the welfare of his men above everything else.”
Management Lessons to Be Learned from Shackleton
While most modern managers won’t face the extreme and lethal conditions that Shackleton did, there are several important management lessons to be learned from his story.
#1: Pick the Right Subordinates and Know Them Well
Managers may or may not have the ability to choose their direct reports. Shackleton was careful to choose men who demonstrated the qualities and expertise that he needed for the expedition. Over time, he learned what made them tick and how to best utilize their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Even if you can’t choose your direct reports, you should still communicate with your team and develop an understanding of what makes them effective in their jobs. This understanding will help you understand how their abilities can be further developed and how you can turn them into a high-performing team.
#2: Earn the Trust of Your Team by Demonstrating Your Integrity Every Day
Your employees need to know that you have their backs. Shackleton’s crew always knew that their safety came first with The Boss.
According to CNBC, some of the most unacceptable manager behaviors include “playing favorites, making informal threats to fire workers, making romantic advances toward employees, using drugs or alcohol at work, or using company expense accounts for personal items.” If it’s clear to your employees that you’re only paying lip service to company rules, you’re acting like an egotistical bully or you ask employees to perform actions that put their safety at risk, you’ll permanently lose their trust.
As a result, they will become stressed and dread going to work. In addition, those direct reports are more likely to depart the company and move on to other positions, which can reflect badly on your performance as an inspirational leader.
Gallup notes that “roughly 70% of American workers aren’t engaged” at work. While your duties will take up a great deal of your workday, good communication and behavior that demonstrates your integrity go a long way toward retaining valuable, hard-working employees.
#3: Be Resourceful, Responsive and Flexible
The current coronavirus pandemic has greatly tested companies as well as managers. But even though you may not physically see your direct reports every day, it’s still possible to be an inspirational leader.
If problems come up in the work environment, use your ingenuity to bring those problems to a successful conclusion for everyone. Take the time to have regular chats with your team with Zoom or by phone if they work remotely, or talk with employees one-on-one if they are in a physical office.
Work situations change from time. But a team governed by a strong, inspirational leader who is flexible and willing to make adjustments as needed will be a successful and productive team.
Good Management Is a Skill that Comes from Experience
Shackleton had a rare, instinctive grasp of fairness, integrity and other leadership qualities that made him a good manager. But for most modern-day managers, becoming an inspirational leader that direct reports respect and trust won’t happen overnight, but leadership skills can develop over time.