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Neil Irwin

Neil Irwin is a senior economic correspondent at The New York Times, where he was a founding member of The Upshot, the Times’s site for analytical journalism. He was previously[…]

NEIL IRWIN: You know, I think a lot about what managers actually do in an economic sense. And I think-- more and more, I believe it's creating an environment where the people underneath them are more productive than they would be otherwise. And it's finding ways to make people create things that are more than the sum of its parts, that are more effective than they could be alone or without your supervision. And I think that's the key idea, and can be the guiding star that drives the manager. And I think having a happy and motivated workforce is just part and parcel of that.
I think we all know we do our best work when we're excited to get something done. You know, it's amazing how hard people will work when they feel like it's to do something bigger than themselves. And I think having a culture having an environment that promotes that is essentially one of the most effective possible tools of achieving that goal of achieving greater productivity than you would if those people were on their own.
So the three things that I think it really takes to be an effective manager are these. First of all, learn to delegate. You know, the most important thing is you have to trust your people to do work themselves. And if you're in the business of overseeing every single decision they make, you're not going to be a very effective manager because you'll be stretched too thin and you'll certainly never be able to rise to higher levels of management where you're overseeing dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people. So that's the first thing.
The second is work hard to understand what the people underneath you do. They have this-- there's this tendency to think, you know, if I came up through one skill, as I oversee people with different skills, I'm just going to trust them to get it right. And you have to. Of course you're not going to be able to understand what everybody on your team does all day. But if you can understand their motivations, their terminology, their way of communicating, you're going to be a lot better as a manager.
And finally, this is a kind of simple thing, but have as many one-on-one meetings as you possibly can. I think one thing that there's a lot of evidence is that having one-on-one meetings, especially with your direct reports, is one of the strongest predictors of success as a manager. Big meetings aren't good. Little meetings can be very good. It's time-consuming, it's hard, but it's a thing that really correlates with success as a manager.