The Two Most Important Roles That a Manager Needs to Take

An effective manager has a number of things to balance when it comes to running their team. It can sometimes be a little overwhelming, particularly when you often have your “day job” as an individual contributor to get on with as well. 

This week, I want you to look for opportunities when working with your team to fulfil the two most important roles that a manager can take – being your team’s greatest cheerleader and their greatest critic. 

You can do this via 121 meetings, delegating work, casual conversations, Slack messages, anything really when you communicate with your team. 

It’s a delicate balance and one that can be hard to strike, but if you get it right, you’ll build a great relationship with your team and help them progress well, perform well, and achieve their goals.

Their greatest cheerleader

Firstly, you need to be the greatest cheerleader for your team. This means a few things.

Being a voice of encouragement, enthusiasm and positivity

You’re that person that radiates positivity around your team and even when things get hard, you are the person that picks them up and pushes them forward. This doesn’t mean shying away from hard conversations or sympathising when things don’t go to plan, but you always get to a point where you’re looking forward in a positive direction.

Advocating for them to the rest of the team and wider company

When you’re part of a larger company, with multiple departments and teams, there are going to be times when you need to work together and collaborate with them. When this happens, you may face times when you need to advocate for your team. The may include ensuring that:

  • Their voices and opinions are heard and respected.
  • They get resources and budgets that are necessary for completing their jobs.
  • Accountability and responsibility is placed in the right places, both in your team and in others.

This part of being their greatest cheerleader can also include advocating for your team when it comes to personal progression, including opportunities for promotions, pay rises and access to personal development opportunities. For example, if pay rises are approved by someone that you report to, part of your job is to fairly represent your team and to fight their corner if needed.

Giving them the support they need to achieve their goals

Ultimately, you need to do everything that you can to help your team progress in their roles, perform well and to achieve their goals. This includes supporting your team to set appropriate goals that are achievable, whilst also pushing them hard to progress and learn as much as possible. 

It also means that you should identify and remove blockers that could get in the way of them achieving their goals. For example, if they are finding it hard to dedicate time to their personal development each month, you need to work with them to free up time somewhere. 

Combined, these things make up the more positive side of being a manager, meaning that they’re usually quite easy for us to do and to not shy away from. 

Of course, balance is needed because it’s pretty unlikely that your role as a manager will be 100% positive all of the time! Problems will arise and the personal development of your team needs to include feedback that may not be so positive too.

So let’s balance things out with the second important part of your role as a manager: being your team’s biggest critic.

Their greatest critic

Not only is being 100% positive all of the time very unlikely as a manager (things will go wrong at some point!), but it’s also pretty damaging to take this approach. Of course, we should aim to be a positive voice most of the time, but there are certainly going to be times when things go wrong and a different approach is needed. 

Let’s look at a few examples of times when you may need to act as their biggest critic.

Delivering negative feedback

One of the most obvious times when you are someone’s biggest critic is when you need to deliver some negative feedback.

At a basic level, if you’re not comfortable with doing this, then you’re going to have a very tough time being an effective manager and in the long run, your team will suffer. 

Delivering negative feedback is essential to the development of your team and their performance in their role. It’s unlikely that your team will be perfect 100% of the time. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone has room for improvement with what they do. It’s your job as their manager to find ways for them to improve and get better.

Setting expectations that someone may not want to hear

Most people are ambitious and want to progress fast, take on more responsibility and get promoted. This is a classic situation where you need to balance being a cheerleader and a critic because of course, you want your team to do these things. At the same time, you may need to temper their ambitions sometimes if they are trying to move too quickly.

There is nothing wrong with moving quickly, but if it’s to the detriment of their performance and actually ends up causing more harm than good, then it’s your job to set expectations that they may need to slow down a little. 

For example, there is a well know line of thinking known as The Peter Principle which states:

“…people in a hierarchy tend to rise to “a level of respective incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.”

You can also watch a short video here about it from Laurence J. Peter, along with seeing some amazing special effects from the 1970s…

Essentially, people can be promoted too soon and it leads to them struggling to perform. If you recognise as someone’s manager that they may not be ready for a promotion yet, then it’s your job to set this expectation and to provide them with a roadmap for what they need to do and what timeline is more reasonable.

This is never a fun conversation to have because you’re essentially telling someone that they aren’t ready to progress. But again, this is an important conversation that an effective manager needs to have with their team from time to time. 

Sharing decisions that they may not agree with

At some point or another, you’re going to make a decision as a manager that at least one member of your team will not agree with. The sooner you accept and get used to this, the easier time you’ll have as a manager!

When it comes to being someone’s biggest critic, then decision making around promotions, progression and pay rises are likely to be the decisions that someone may not always agree with.

If you tell a member of your team that they aren’t getting a promotion, they will almost certainly not like that decision. Of course, you can (and should) explain your thinking and rationale for this decision so that they may understand it, even if they don’t agree with it. 

It’s this rationale that is likely to make it feel like you’re their greatest critic – because you’re telling them why you’ve had to make a decision that is based upon their performance in their role.

Alongside this, should be clear encouragement and actions on how they can progress and get promotion. Hence, this is another area where the balance between greatest cheerleader and critic is very important.

So, for the week ahead, look for opportunities to balance being your team’s greatest cheerleader and their greatest critic. Striking the right balance is tricky, but setting your mindset in this way will help you take steps in the right direction.

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