Management advice is everywhere. But how do you know which guidance to trust? To find truly useful answers, we asked business executives to answer this question:
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice for how to become a better manager, what would you say?
In response, we received excellent management advice from 13 experienced leaders — including company CEOs, founders, and C-level executives. And I’m sure you’ll agree, the collective wisdom they shared reads like a playbook for any aspiring manager who wants to level up:
- Prioritize Leadership Skills and Embrace Vulnerability
- Conduct Regular Check-ins and Learn from Errors
- Practice Active Listening
- Master the Art of Delegation
- Respect Individual Ambitions
- Create a Psychologically Safe Team Space
- Seek Team Feedback
- Plan for Contingencies and Create Transparency
- Foster Open Communication and Employee Understanding
- Uplift Others and Practice Humility
- Listen More and Trust Your Team
- Develop Strong Relationships and Set Clear Expectations
- Understand Your Management Style
To dive deeper into these responses, read on…
13 Senior Leaders Share Their Best Management Advice
1. Prioritize Leadership Skills and Embrace Vulnerability
Reflecting on my own professional journey, I would tell my younger self to prioritize the development of leadership skills over technical expertise. Through the years, as I ascended to the C-suite, I realized my role was less about nitty-gritty details and more about guiding the team toward our shared vision.
For instance, when I was a manager, I was deeply involved in the technical aspects of our projects. I prided myself on my ability to solve complex problems. However, as I moved up the ladder, I found that, although my technical skills remained important, they took a backseat to my leadership abilities. It’s essential to inspire my team, manage people through change, and build a strong, inclusive culture.
My unique advice to aspiring leaders is to embrace vulnerability. It might seem counterintuitive, but showing your human side can actually strengthen your leadership. When I started sharing my own challenges and failures with my team, I noticed a significant increase in their engagement and trust.
2. Conduct Regular Check-ins and Learn from Errors
I would advise my younger self to become a better manager by checking in with my team. Humans commit mistakes. Smart humans learn from those errors.
I’ve learned that checking in regularly with each employee makes a difference in our business. Talking with people about their short-term and long-term plans and how to achieve them helps employees feel valued. It improves retention, for sure.
Regular conversations give you a chance to gauge employee satisfaction when it comes to workload. Then you can make adjustments if needed. Early on I failed to do that, which caused us to lose people with strong potential. However, I’ve learned from experience, and am doing better now.
3. Practice Active Listening
If I could go back in time, I would practice active listening. Initially, I focused on sharing my ideas more than understanding my team. Now I recognize the value of listening. It’s important to seek feedback and create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Regular one-on-one meetings and open forums encourage dialogue and collaboration. These practices improve engagement, productivity, and satisfaction.
That’s why I urge mid-level managers to prioritize communication and active listening. Encourage people to engage in meaningful conversations and open dialogue. This unlocks team potential and opens the door to innovation and overall success.
4. Master the Art of Delegation
I would tell my younger self to accept the fact that I can’t do everything myself. Delegation is a critical skill both for maturing as a team leader and growing a business.
When I was just starting to get the company off the ground, I had an intuitive desire to handle every process myself. Finance, marketing, client management — I spent half of my working time trying to touch areas where I lacked expertise.
Eventually, I saw how unproductive and ineffective that approach was, so I began handing off small tasks. But team members couldn’t see the big picture, so small-scale delegation didn’t help either.
Finally, I realized how important it was to trust my team and rely on their expertise without trying to interfere with their work. Today, I’m lucky to have a team of professionals by my side who let me focus on activities that will yield the highest returns and grow the company.
5. Respect Individual Ambitions
As a driven leader, I used to project my ambition onto my team, expecting everyone to have the same level of commitment and desire to progress professionally. But over time, I realized not everyone aspires to be a C-suite executive — and that’s okay.
It’s crucial to respect the unique ambitions of each team member instead of imposing your own aspirations on them. When I made this mental shift, I saw improved team dynamics and productivity. Moreover, it alleviated unnecessary frustration, allowing me to find greater satisfaction in my work.
Remember, demanding too much from your team can lead to dissonance. Ask people about their goals and ambitions, and you’ll unlock a more harmonious, effective working environment.
6. Create a Psychologically Safe Team Space
If I could turn back time, I’d tell myself to create a safe space for the team. I never aimed for psychological safety, but it happened. Team members have confided they feel safer than at previous jobs.
Once, a member of our marketing team spotted a software issue. She spoke up without fear, and we fixed it together. Another time, a new guy from the UX team suggested that we add an automation process. Despite being new, he didn’t hesitate to share.
It’s hard to calculate the financial impact of this but I’m sure that psychological safety makes a difference between failure and a team that prospers.
7. Seek Team Feedback
If I could go back in time, I would actively seek more feedback from my team. I used to be close-minded. I believed I had all the answers. However, I soon realized that true growth and improvement come from embracing diverse perspectives and valuing input from others.
By creating an open, safe environment where my team feels comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns, I’ve been able to foster more collaboration and innovation. Also, I’ve gained valuable insights that help me make better decisions and ultimately become a more effective leader.
8. Plan for Contingencies and Create Transparency
I would encourage myself to make contingency plans a priority. Although planning for success is obviously critical, having backup strategies in place can help address unexpected obstacles that arise.
Effective contingency plans help decision-makers recognize that their leader has fully evaluated the situation and taken appropriate measures to adjust and move forward.
By nature, I am an organized person, so I tend to anticipate potential obstacles and map out other options. But earlier in my career, I wasn’t always transparent about this.
Failing to communicate about contingencies sometimes made my staff uneasy, so I missed opportunities to gain their trust. However, over time, I learned to take proactive steps to support staff through change and reassure them that a Plan B was available.
9. Foster Open Communication and Employee Understanding
In the past, I’ve seen many problems come from miscommunication and thoughts left unsaid. I know top talent left the company when they felt unheard and underappreciated because their opinions did not receive enough attention. This is why my management advice would be to foster more open communication and listen more closely to employees.
For example, it’s important to conduct satisfaction surveys so you can understand staff concerns and take action to make the work environment better. This reduces employee turnover, as well as the cost of training new hires. It also builds a positive company culture that attracts great people and keeps them on board.
10. Uplift Others and Practice Humility
“Talent doesn’t give you license to be an a**hole.”
I was both blessed and cursed with many natural gifts and talents. I was creative, charismatic, a born salesman, and a spotlight hog. When I got the chance to be “the boss,” I assumed I had a responsibility to share my awesomeness with everyone and prove that I could do their job as well or better than they could.
What a jerk I was!
Through the words and actions of various true leaders, I’ve come to realize that great leadership requires humility, patience, and the ability to lift others up to levels they never thought possible. I’m so grateful to those who were patient enough to give me the latitude to figure it out on my own. Today, as a sales and leadership trainer, I’m “paying it forward” by helping others avoid the mistakes I made.
11. Listen More and Trust Your Team
When I think back, I remember times when stress was high. People on my team were feeling disconnected and lost trust in me because I communicated much more than I listened.
But leadership is not about being in the front of the team, always speaking or telling people to execute tasks and ideas. Effective leaders do just the opposite.
By practicing saying less and listening more, I stopped believing I needed to carry everything on my shoulders. I learned that people want to feel like they are heard and their contributions matter.
Listen first and believe that your team can add value and succeed. Nurture them so they feel you trust their decisions. Right or wrong, we can learn from our mistakes and create better solutions.
So speak less, inspire those you lead, and trust that your direct reports will rise and deliver great results.
12. Develop Strong Relationships and Set Clear Expectations
One piece of advice I would share with myself is to have the courage to step out of my comfort zone and take the time to develop strong relationships with my team.
Strong relationships are key to being a successful leader. Before taking any action, it’s important to understand the motivations and viewpoints of each team member, so you can make informed decisions based on their unique needs. So encourage people to express themselves openly. And when they share ideas, listen actively.
Also, make sure expectations are as clear as possible. Setting expectations up front makes it easier to develop an environment conducive to collaboration and innovation.
Leadership is about inspiring and encouraging your team to do great work. Ensure you acknowledge their efforts, offer guidance, and provide constructive feedback to help them grow. By providing reinforcement and support, you can foster a culture of respect, trust, and appreciation.
13. Understand Your Management Style
Early in my career, I didn’t recognize my management style. Although this is not a necessity, it helps to know your style and how it works in a real-world environment.
For instance, if your approach is more participative, take time to understand the steps involved and their implications. For example, talk with managers who’ve used this approach and learn about its impact. This discovery process doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it can be revealing.
I planned to manage my team based on my predecessor’s advice. Although this helped, it took a long time to develop and test my approach. Fortunately, everything eventually worked out. But the sooner you can get a grasp of your style, the better.