IT Department managers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by their unique position in their place of employment — responsible for a set of direct reports looking to them for guidance and authority while simultaneously managing the expectations of upper management or company leadership.
For Department Heads, every day can feel like a struggle to be a good leader at work while still being effective in your position.
How to Be a Good Leader: A Few Pieces of Timeless Advice
1. Invite Collaboration Whenever Relevant
This isn't a suggestion to ask for input on every decision you make — after all, making tough decisions is part of being in management — but to build collaboration into the processes your team already utilizes.
Effective leadership involves a willingness to accept advice and input from others when it could provide a tangible benefit, even if that means criticism of currently-used methods that may be inefficient.
You have a team of talented, qualified technical professionals working in your department. Make use of that education and expertise by inviting them to collaborate on certain projects or asking about ideas they might have about improving the way things are currently done.
On that note...
2. Be Open to Innovation and Criticism of Current Procedures
This can be a tricky situation. There's a difference between an employee suggesting a new process or program that could make the workplace more efficient or productive and a disgruntled employee complaining about the job.
To effectively manage your team, you need to be open to new ideas and willing to listen to and understand criticism of inefficient processes or programs, but also able to make it clear that while constructive criticism is welcome, simply complaining for its own sake is not.
This is best done by being an example yourself. Your team will take their cue from you, so if you emphasize constructive criticism and new ideas and limit your own complaints, they will follow suit.
If you make this clear and nonetheless continue to have issues with problem employees negatively affecting the rest of the team, it may be time to pull in Human Resources for advice.
3. Don't Micromanage an Effective Team
Technical professionals, like software developers and network administrators, are often highly experienced and educated. The team you work with has been selected because of their knowledge and understanding of their position.
Micromanaging is almost always a serious drain on employee morale and can negatively affect the team's ability to handle their current job duties. It could backfire and turn a previously engaged, effective team into a sluggish, disconnected group that no longer respects management.
If you can show your team that you believe in them and their capabilities, it will go a long way towards encouraging them to prove you right in your confidence.
4. Always Be Prepared to Communicate Concerns
This isn't just important for IT Department Heads, but for any and all managers across every industry. Don't reserve your comments and concerns until an employee's annual review.
A manager who seems perfectly happy 364 days of the year, only to pull out a laundry list of complaints during an annual review, will likely end up with a resentful, blindsided employee.
A good leader and strong manager emphasizes consistent and honest communication. If you have concerns about your employee's performance, speak up! Schedule a private one-on-one discussion to elaborate on your concerns and provide a plan for improvement, inviting the employee's input.
Give them a chance to improve and meet expectations before they feel like their continued employment or salary is on the line.
It's not uncommon for employees to go through periods where their performance just isn't what it once was. The employee in question may not even realize they've begun to fall behind, or may be struggling under a too-heavy workload or dealing with outside-of-work personal issues.
Honest, tactful communication with a concerned department manager gives them an opportunity to change gears and get back to the excellent employee you're proud to have as part of your team.
5. Pursue Professional Development Opportunities
While many companies provide professional development opportunities for their employees, we've found that many neglect opportunities for managerial development.
Managing employees is a set of skills all its own, and an employee used to working as part of a team who is promoted to management or leadership may feel uncertain in their new position. That uncertainty could lead to developing management bad habits or early mistakes that affect the team's morale and motivation.
Do some looking around for professional development opportunities for department managers. This could be as simple as receiving advice and extra training from an experienced manager within your company.
You may also find help from local networking groups of other individuals in similar positions, conferences dedicated to your industry, online certifications, or other professional growth opportunities that focus on the unique concerns faced by management.
6. Let Your Team See Their Growth and Impact
A well-performing team deserves recognition. Most people naturally want to do well at their jobs, and if every effort they make to go above and beyond is never even acknowledged, your team's morale will suffer and so will their motivation to perform at any level above baseline competence at their jobs.
After all, why work harder and put in their best effort if no one ever seems to notice?
Some individuals will keep going for their own personal sense of accomplishment, but others may respond best to having management recognize their extra efforts.
We're not suggesting going overboard, but a simple acknowledgement of a job truly well done, plus ensuring company leadership is aware of any employee of yours that is truly providing exceptional work, might stick with your employees even if they end up moving on to other opportunities later on.
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