Management Essentials: Becoming a Better Boss

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Leadership experts say the success of any business depends on the effectiveness of its managers.

How would you rate yourself or your boss? Is your team functioning effectively? Are you fulfilled by your contributions?

UT’s 2011 statewide employee engagement survey asked similar questions, and responses have led to more emphasis on management training, communication and work/life balance.

The truth is every department has room for improvement, but there are lots of managers and teams already doing a good job. The purpose of this series is to share their stories as a tool for helping others.

Interviews were conducted with eight managers who were recommended by their colleagues for their leadership abilities, and a common theme emerged–empower employees. Their advice serves as Part 1 in For Your Benefit’s guide to “Becoming a Better Boss.”


Is your department a good place to work?

77 percent of UT employees think so. (According to survey results)

3 Ways to Empower Employees

tip01Be an Excellent Listener
Getting your staff to take a more active role begins with nurturing communication and the foundational skill of listening. Managers must encourage the sharing of ideas, questions and concerns and be willing to respond to what they hear.

“I’m not afraid to make difficult decisions because I listen to my team and get their feedback.”

– Pat Hardy, UT Institute for Public Service

illustration-listeningAlison McNabb, a director in the UT Graduate School of Medicine, acknowledged people are hired for their knowledge and talents. If you fail to listen to them you are not giving them the opportunity to achieve and could be missing out on successes.

Conversely, when leaders stop listening, employees may respond by shelving ideas or even pulling away, neither of which is good for internal communication or progress. Employees with attentive managers are more likely to speak up and get along better with team members, thus improving the department’s overall functioning.


Does your supervisor/ department chair actively solicit your suggestions and ideas?

59 percent of UT employees said yes. (According to survey results)

tip02Unleash Potential
The effects of micromanagement (stifling creativity, loss of motivation, poor morale and low productivity) can lead any team to eventual burnout. So as a manager, how can you move beyond the role of gatekeeper and into the role of facilitator? One approach—give your staff freedom.

“Get out of the way and let them shine!”

– Dr. Jan van der Aa, UT Health Science Center


In practice, this might include setting goals or making assignments and allowing employees to use their talents to determine the best approach. Another tip is to allow and appreciate mistakes. “It’s ok to fail,” McNabb said. “Take something and learn from it.” Seize mistakes as opportunities for improvement and refinement. Amazing things can happen when you trust and support your team.

tip03Be Open and Honest
Set the tone for openness and honesty by giving employees the latitude to be frank with their opinions. Avoid making employees think they’re expected to agree with you by encouraging challenging thoughts and divergent opinions.

“I expect my team to be honest with me, and they expect me to be honest with them. That’s how we establish trust.”

– Rebecca Walker, UT Knoxville

Some employees are reluctant to speak up, so provide multiple opportunities for sharing in group settings and private. Make it known that you welcome feedback and discussion. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism from your staff. Finally, build rapport. When welcoming new employees, ask questions on their views so they feel comfortable contributing and valued from the start.


Do you feel you can speak up or challenge a traditional way of handling something without fear of harming your career?

59 percent of UT employees said yes. (According to survey results)


Do you have suggestions to help managers be better bosses?

If so, visit to submit your suggestions. Part 2 of “Becoming a Better Boss” will focus on tips from team members and will debut in spring 2014.