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Being a good manager has less to do with knowledge of a companys main field of activity and more with displaying a range of so-called “people skills”. While this detail is common knowledge in todays business world, what exactly are the main skills in a managers arsenal remains a rather grey area. This situation stems from the fact that considering the management needs in the 21st century, the field of management as a whole has become increasingly divided and fragmented. If not long ago management was split into clear areas (such as HR management, financial management, operational management and others), today specific management positions may require processes from multiple areas thus blurring the borders. Therefore, correctly identifying a manager’s toolkit of skills can prove to be a challenge in itself.
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The Professional Development Module attempts to settle this grey area using a study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters. This study conducted among a large number of employers tries to identify the main management skills considered to be in short supply in today’s market.
The study names “commercial awareness” and “communication skills” as the very top shortages identified by employers. With each harnessing the attention of 60% of the respondents, they stand well ahead of the next identified shortages: “leadership”, “teamwork” and “problem-solving abilities”. “Conceptual ability”, “Subject knowledge and competence”, “Numeracy” and “Foreign languages” follow, but each being named by less than 20% of the respondents. “Good general education” is the last of the skills considered in this study.
The results confirm the initial premise that the aforementioned “people skills” are considered much more relevant in the field of management, while at the same time being severely scarce. Thus, the Professional Development Module places emphasis on these skills, while aggregating them into more focused categories. The Module accurately describes the manager’s toolkit as containing: communication skills, presentation skills, negotiation skills, and cross-cultural awareness, networking skills, team skills as well as conflict management skills.
Having a head start given by an accurate identification of the market’s needs, the Professional Development Module proceeds to train these skills in an effective manner. It is notable that the module is divided into sections covering each of the identified skill categories. Each of these sections takes the time to properly define its area of emphasis, underlining its relevance and importance within the toolkit before proceeding to develop the subject and use real-life examples and exercises to help develop the skill.
Facilitation is certainly one of the most important skills in the set described above. Sometimes presented as mediation or negotiation, in fact facilitation is a broader term that describes the activity of creating the proper environment so that participants in a meeting or discussion can reach a satisfactory agreement.
The Professional Development Module segment dedicated to facilitation does a great job at describing the issues that fall under a facilitator’s jurisdiction. While meetings are part of any core process of any corporate activity, they can also be the very Achilles’s heels of the process they are used in. Since meetings bring together different people with different goals, different hopes, different expectations, different personalities and different view of the world altogether, conflicts appear very easily. Conflicts can result in disagreement, aggression or frustration, which lead the meeting away from its intended purpose and alienate the participants. While conflicts are the most common choke point in a meeting, there are many other pitfalls that can turn a meeting into a counterproductive activity. Having an individual or small group dominate the discussion is one such pitfall just as letting an otherwise productive discussion fall into running around in circles when conclusions are called for.
By underlining the key attributes of a facilitator, this segment of the Professional Development module perfectly defines the ideal persona to take over the role: someone not actively involved with the goals of the meeting (such as a team leader, organizer or someone involved with one side or another), impartial, who knows when to listen and how to ask the right questions. One of the more difficult to grasp ideas about facilitation is that a facilitator cannot draw conclusions or pass judgement. During the heat of the argument this is easy to lose sight of, so a facilitator also needs to be able to cope with strong emotions that may arise on the spur of the moment as well as keeping his own views aside.
Being able to empathize with those supporting seemingly antagonistic views is another key ability in a facilitator’s arsenal. However, adding it to the already mentioned fact that a facilitator must not take sides, it becomes clear that this is a particularly difficult element: empathizing without necessarily openly agreeing. Another important ability is identifying and removing obstacles that may arise during discussion. For example, a common obstacle is the discussion being side-tracked by irrelevant arguments that risk-creating conflicts not tied to the meeting’s goals. At this point, a facilitator needs to be able to help the participants overcome this choke point by asking the right questions. Resorting to Socratic thinking commonly does this and using an arsenal of questions whose goal is to help participants discover and solve the choke point by themselves.
Overall, this segment does a great job at outlining what could very well be the most difficult role a manager needs to assume at times.
Another very important skill is the ability to convey ideas through a presentation. There is no doubt that being able to convince an audience through an aptly given presentation is essential within the managerial toolkit. However, what makes a good presentation eludes most people although it can easily mark the border between success and failure in a business endeavour. The Professional Development Module rightfully dedicates a segment to answering this question by precisely defining the requirements for both a good presentation and a good speaker. Using real-life examples, this segment describes the main issues with public presentations and how well known public speakers have dealt with them. The inability to retain the audience’s attention span and the overuse of PowerPoint as a delivery method are quoted as main reasons for failing presentations.
This segment sets out to suggest a set of best practices in delivering presentations. Showing the audience what they have to gain from following the presentation, keeping true to the goal of the presentation, relying more on images and visual aids than on text, using body language and eye contact to enrich the context are all part of a good public speaker’s arsenal and at the same time they are all part of a valuable lesson of the Professional Development Module.
Many companies now are concerned that commercial needs are not the focus they should be, so this is one of the requirements for and effective manager. Creating ties is a necessary process, also gaining their professional trust, connecting to the other, listening and learning about their needs is of vital importance in order to be able to provide them, thus making you valuable and necessary. In this process, the body language holds a great deal of importance. You should seem confident and aware of yourself and of the others, relaxed and ready to listen and use the knowledge acquired to facilitate understanding and move towards your goal. Keep a mild and firm tone of voice, keep eye contact, but with interruptions so that it will not turn into a stare that would make the other participants uncomfortable. Your verbal content and non-verbal communication as well should be able to illustrate your utmost interest into meeting the others needs, be them personal or commercial, presenting the benefits and preserving the relationship and trust you acquired.
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Another important skill a manager needs to acquire is how to also make use of his networking skill in order to build his team and make it work. A team’s focus will be delivering results, and it’s a manager’s job to make sure it can imbue this need into the team. Tuckman’ s study has shown that there are four stages in team building; the effective manager should be able to trace the steps and be able to guide the team through the necessary steps for an appropriate cohesion and joint efforts towards the set purpose.
Forming the team is the first step necessary for team building. The basic drive of the human behaviour at this point is to be accepted by the other team members, to avoid controversy or conflict, serious issues are set aside for the time being, the focus point being getting together to elaborate a routine, assuming their roles, roles that are being assigned by the manager. But these individuals are also use this time to gather more information about each other, their forming impressions that will influence them, but also technical information about the scope of their assignments and how to best approach it. It being a mostly informational stage, it’s comfortable and really little work actually is being done. The newly formed team finds out about the challenges and how to best tackle them, about their new goals and opportunities. In this stage, team members are motivated, but they still have a few information on the goals of the team and still tread on unsteady grounds. The members tend to smother all conflicts, putting them aside for the appropriate moment when they should be resolved, which will be when the subjective focus will switch to focusing on the team, a process that can be developed quite sooner if the team includes mature members that will begin to model appropriate team behaviour. As a manager, it will be helpful to share the knowledge of the concept of this 4 stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing” with the team, it will definitely improve the team dynamics and speed the process of moving on to the next stage. The importance of this stage in team building comes from the fact that this is the perfect way for members to get to know one another, to learn more information, build trust, but also learn about each member’s reactions to being put under pressure.
The next stage will be achieved in the moment when the individual ideas will start competing for the centre focus. Now the issues of what problems the team is supposed to solve arise learn how they can still function independently and yet together and also decide on the best leadership model to adhere to. At this point, the individuals will open up to each other and confront their ideas and differences in perspective. Depending on the maturity of it’s team members, the storming stage can be settled quickly, but there is a danger of some team members that will focus on small issues to evade real differences, and is not coordinated properly, some teams might never evolve past this stage.
But this stage is truly important for the growth of a team. The manager should know how to emphasize tolerance the differences between the members, differences that in themselves make them valuable assets of the team. The ideal situation is that the individuals do not feel that they’re being judged, and will therefore trust to share their different views and opinions. The manager might chose to step aside and provide more of an objective, detached role from this, leaving the members to sort it out between themselves, but if not properly guided, some teams will never be able to leave this stage.
Now in the norming stage, the team finally achieves to sort out one goal and elaborate a mutual plan for its course. For some members, it will have to come to giving up their own ideas and find a mutual agreement with others to make the team function as a whole. The norming stage is about all team members taking responsibility for their following actions and tap into the ambition reserves to work for the achievement of the team’s goals. This also is the point when the reaching the last stage, the performing one, becomes possible. These now, hopefully, high-performing teams can function as an unit, finding the appropriate ways to get the job done effectively and smoothly, resolving any possible conflicts quickly, not needing any further external supervision. The team’s cohesion has been achieved, the members are still autonomous, yet interdependent, knowledgeable, motivated; they are now competent and capable to handle the decision-making process without any other supervision. Tasks are done collaboratively all any dissent that will arise is to be expected and permitted as long as it’s manifestations are channelled through acceptable means inside the team.
In all this, in order for the manager to ensure a high success rate, he will have to keep focus of the team, make sure the goal is still in mind and, keep the balance between tasks and purpose, but also maintaining an enjoyable working environment, relaxed, supportive and balanced, always making clear challenging goals and ensuring they can be achieved.
Thus, the signs of an effective team are: commitment, cooperation, communication and contribution.
This module has stressed enough the connection between management and leadership, the joining points and the differences. Surely enough, leadership is more connected to people relations, and management has the more technical side. But they need each other, and both positions have to be mutually assumed at some point. Both leadership, and management, are keys to the success of an organization. But one of the differences between a leader and a manager is that the former has followers, brought in by different reasons, and the other has subordinates, usually assigned to him. Mostly, what turns someone into a follower is a leader’s system of values. The follower might buy the leader’s ideology, or way of reasoning, or shared goals, or maybe simply out of fear. In any case, the leader is the one to be able to embody a vision. Leadership is now viewed as a process, not a function, and its main focus is on managing relationships.
As stated before, these roles are mutually assumable. Despite the lore, leaders aren’t born, they are made and it’s same with managers. Even though managers are more focused on the processes and the technicalities, and leaders on the people relationship, a manager needs those relationship skills to keep his team perfectly coordinated and goal-oriented, yet relaxed and balanced. This module proved the importance of self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation of a manager, and also the weight social skills carries in the organization’s dynamics.
Through this Professional Development Module the manager’s toolkit is, thus, completed with this set of necessary skills built to fulfil today’s commercial needs, proving the importance of acquiring communication skills, presentation abilities, negotiation skills, cross-cultural awareness working together with networking skills, team skills as well as conflict management skills. The PDM trains this complete set in a highly effective manner, teaching managers how to reach their potential, how to best organize their work and chart the proper course of action that would best benefit the company and it’s members; as such, this module is most recommended for it will ensure the achievement of every company’s goals.
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