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Manager Basics for Becoming a Great Leader: The Manager's Operating System

Being a manager is hard. Being a good manager is especially hard, but with the right skills, habits, and insights, any empathetic manager can be great.

Managers wear many hats. They're the face of company culture, the primary owner of performance management and employee engagement, and a thoroughfare of communication for the organization. Sometimes this never-ending stream of increasing expectations can feel overwhelming. But really, if managers can get back to the basics and get really good at the stuff that matters, being a great manager is totally achievable.

To guide managers through the building blocks of becoming a great manager, we have pooled our best practices from decades of leadership development, combined with our customer feedback to create the playbook for people who want to lead better.

This is the Manager's Operating System. And it starts with the basics.

So what are the basics?

Being a great manager is about doing the right things, in the right way. Let's set aside the characteristics of a good leader - like empathy, patience, emotional maturity, a growth mindset, and the ability to listen.

For now, let's just focus on what is required once you have the right person. What are the habits that make a good manager?

Doing the right things.

There are a few tools in the manager's toolkit that give managers a head start on building their team. We have identified 5 of these meeting types that give managers bandwidth to lead better, while reducing their own burnout. We'll dig into each of these meeting types so you can take advantage of the ones that fit your leadership style best. (Spoiler alert - all of these are built into our free platform.)

The one-on-one. This dedicated development and alignment time is by far the most powerful tool in a manager's toolkit, and is also the one most often skipped or glossed over. It goes without saying that this meeting is meant to be held with the manager and a single direct report.

This is focused time for both parties to reflect on expectations, review current work, check for alignment, design new ways to grow careers and skills, and build a good relationship.

What does a good one-on-one look like?

While there is a recipe, of sorts, there is no one-size-fits-all. This meeting will vary by individual, by employment stage, and by current work conditions. Sometimes the most important work to be done is connection. Sometimes it is feedback. Sometimes it is problem-solving. But generally speaking, there are a few things to consider in designing a great one-on-one.

one on one meeting template

  1. Make it part of the weekly routine. Get it on the calendar and honor your calendar. The time, day, and place should be as predictable as possible in your unique situation. Try not to reschedule. Holding this meeting is one way to show your employee how much you value them and their time.

  2. Make it valuable. While managers should absolutely use this time to build a relationship with their team member, wasting time without an agenda can be insulting to busy individuals who look to their manager for support, development, and resources. Stay in tune with their workload, bandwidth, successes, struggles, stuck points, and achievements.

  3. Allow them to prepare (and show up prepared as well). Publish an agenda. Share the agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting. Give your employees a chance to review the one-on-one agenda. Make it meaningful, or even start with a template.

  4. Make time for relationship building. This is especially important for new employees, those who are new to the role, those going through changes, or those who need extra support during challenging times.

  5. Be deliberate about listening. Managers should listen as much as they talk. There are times to cover information and times to ask questions and be quiet. If an issue is important enough for an employee to bring up, it's worth remembering and following up.

  6. Send a recap. The time between a manager and employee is valuable. Inevitably, there will be topics that arise that are worth noting. In order to create a sense of momentum from one meeting to the next, a manager's recap should be sent each time.

The Team Meeting. Well crafted and well planned team meetings are an incredibly powerful tool for building engagement. Giving team members a chance to build a relationship with each other, share best practices, problem solve together, and stay aligned is a critical function for a manager.

Creating the right collaboration time for a team should include consideration of the current workload and bandwidth and be relevant to the open items, deadlines, and projects that are currently in motion. Great managers will use this time to remove obstacles and keep the team aligned.

Many of the best practices for creating a valuable team meeting are the same as for the one-on-one meeting. However, they also include:

  1. Giving recognition where it's due. This is a great time to show team members how much their work is appreciated and efforts are recognized.

  2. Allow volunteers to share information to showcase their skills. If a team member wants to host a mini-course, give a project overview, or stretch their skills in presenting, this is a great time to provide that opportunity.

  3. Give opportunity for rotating hosts. Sometimes the team may want to hear from a guest from another department, learn about a topic that interests them, or host the meeting themselves as a way to grow their skills. Offering this opportunity allows people to stretch into something they're interested in.

Personal Planning Time. Spending a little time at the beginning of each week to ensure meetings are set, agendas are refined, and all attendees have time to prepare will go a long way to enabling a manager to be present and maximize their time in discussions.

The ideal planning session would take place early at the beginning of the week, so there are fewer interruptions. Setting the mindset and agenda for the week is a great step toward becoming a great manager who is prepared and present for important moments.

The biggest hurdle in this session is simply getting it on the calendar and then honoring the commitment to yourself.

Personal Development Time. We've all heard how important it is to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Self care is the same way, and personal development is part of self care. This time can be scheduled whenever there is enough mental bandwidth to focus on your favorite podcast, book, or training course.

The most important thing to remember is that this time is important and should energize and grow skills.

Weekly Recap Time. At the end of each week, managers should take a moment to review their week. Notate accomplishments, stuck points, completed projects, and decision points. This is a time to send recaps for any outstanding meetings, and ensure a manager's leadership is in the loop on big items.

One of the most impactful uses of this time is to craft a relevant, impactful update to leadership or at least your manager. This is a great opportunity to showcase individual or team achievements, give shoutouts to peers, ask for resources, advocate for your team, and hone your communication skills, increasing your executive presence. The recap meeting is a secret weapon of some pretty great managers.

Combining all these actions and tasks into a routine will improve your consistency and skills as a manager. Now, let's get to the next part.

Doing things the right way.

We've already dedicated an entire ebook (which you can get free) on the 4 Dynamics of Engagement, so we won't rehash each point. But, we will highlight each dynamic so you have the tools you need to become a great leader. You'll recognize each of these points. You've probably experienced work life with and without these fundamentals in place.

Individuality & Camaraderie. Managers have the ability to foster an environment that creates a sense of belonging for team members. Encouraging individuals to express themselves, listening with intention, and building relationships will boost engagement and retention.

Building a sense of teamwork and connectivity that allows people to collectively solve problems creates a bond with the organization and each other that builds trust. Managers have the access to team members that allows them to create collision opportunities between team members.

Inspiration & Accomplishment. Inspired employees dig deeper and do more. They get a greater sense of reward from the mission, vision, and values of the company than those who are not inspired. Inspiration comes ahead of hard work, but accomplishment comes after.

Building a sense of momentum by encouraging alignment throughout projects and initiatives means that the efforts from individuals result in an outcome that can be celebrated. The result is a feeling of accomplishment for a job well done. And this keeps people going when there is extra work to do.

Empowerment & Accountability. A manager can't hold a team member accountable until they're sure the employee has been empowered to do the work they've been assigned.

Empowerment comes in the form of information, access, tools and resources, training, and communication, among other things. Empowerment means the employee fully understands the role and the work, and has all necessary components (including time) to complete the work at a satisfactory level. Managers largely decide what it means to be empowered, but the agreement that empowerment has been achieved is a collaborative process.

Once an employee is empowered, accountability can be implemented equitably across the team. Accountability means communicating results as compared to expectations in a way that provides clarity.

It also means being accountable to employees for the work a manager is required to do. Managers are accountable to their team for advocacy, empowerment, training, communication, and other things, depending on the role. In order to hold yourself accountable, a manager has to ask for feedback regularly, listen intently, and follow up on feedback received with clarity. This is one of the toughest areas for some managers.

Reward & Recognition. Reward is the reason we all work. It's compensation, title, status, benefits, perks, and even intangible things that make us feel the work we do is worth the time and effort we give. Recognition is different from reward. Recognition is a more public acknowledgement of good or great work. It is the result of others knowing and appreciating what we do.

Both are important, and both work together. As a manager builds a relationship with their team, they'll know which types of reward and recognition speak most directly to the motivations of their team members. The more personalized a manager rewards or recognizes an employee, the stronger the impact.

These 4 fundamental concepts of leadership can and should be incorporated into the tasks in the first section to create meaningful engagements between great managers and their team members. And this brings us to the final component of what it takes to be a good manager.

Summing it up.

Ultimately, combining the right tasks with the right intention can bring about the best outcome. This is the manager's operating system - a prescription of work and method that brings about positive outcomes for leaders and their teams.

The reward for building dependability and empathy into your leadership is an engaged, high performing team who can run without unnecessary input from their manager. This self sufficiency breeds a bench of future leaders and future managers who help grow your company and your career. It's the ultimate payback for a job well done. Empathy plays a huge part in being a great manager, and following the 4 dynamics of engagement will help you build your skills, your team, and your career.

When you're ready to implement these processes and ideas into your work, check out our free training and calendar integration platform. We walk you through setting up time, creating and publishing agendas, and sending thoughtful recaps, right from your calendar. Get started free at

GroWiser is a manager enablement company, built by leaders for leaders. Our tools help managers leverage the GroWiser Manager Operating System by integrating routines and agendas into manager calendars, providing free online training, and offering coaching services for further development. Find out more at

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