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The Top 10 Management Skills You Need

A Q&A with James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw

100 ways to be a better boss mind tools for managers.
Being a manager is a tough job, but being a great one is even tougher. Just consider the array of knowledge and skills it takes to deal with a variety of people, tasks and business needs. Authors James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw say that, ideally, managers should know between 90 and 120 individual skills. Manktelow, founder and CEO of, and Birkinshaw, deputy dean for programs at London Business School, surveyed 15,242 managers worldwide to identify the most critical competencies, which are highlighted in their book Mind Tools for Managers: 100 Ways to Be a Better Boss (Wiley, 2018).

Here are the highest-ranked skills, according to their survey:

1. Building good working relationships with people at all levels.
Recommended by 79.9% of managers surveyed.
The most important management skill, the survey found, is the ability to build good relationships with people at all levels. For example, an approach to relationship building described in the book focuses on creating "high-quality connections" through respectful engagement.

2. Prioritizing tasks effectively for yourself and your team.
Recommended by 79.5% of managers surveyed.
"All of us have a huge number of things that we want to do or have to do," Birkinshaw says. "The demands can often seem overwhelming, to us and the members of our team. This is why prioritization is the second most important management skill." A particularly useful approach to this the book recommends is called the Action Priority Matrix.

3. Considering many factors in decision-making.
Recommended by 77.8% of managers surveyed.
We've all seen how bad decisions can be when they're rushed or when financial concerns are the only criteria used. This is why it pays to use a formal, structured process to think a problem through thoroughly, including analyzing risk and exploring ethical considerations. The ORAPAPA framework—which stands for Opportunities, Risks, Alternatives and Improvements, Past Experience, Analysis, People, and Alignment and Ethics—is a good example.

4. Knowing the key principles of good communication.
Recommended by 77.7% of managers surveyed.
"Management is about getting things done by working with people," Manktelow says. You can do this only if you communicate effectively. This is where the 7 C's of Communication—clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, courteous—can help you get your message through more clearly.

5. Understanding the needs of different stakeholders and communicating with them appropriately.
Recommended by 75.8% of managers surveyed.
As you spearhead bigger projects, it becomes increasingly important to manage the many different groups of people who can support or undermine the work you do. This is where it's important to develop good stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management skills.

6. Bringing people together to solve problems.
Recommended by 75.0% of managers surveyed.
"It's often tempting to try to solve problems on your own," Birkinshaw says. "But there are very many reasons why it pays to bring together a team of experienced people." Gathering people for brainstorming sessions is a good start, but it also pays to understand structured problem-solving processes, know how to facilitate meetings well and be skilled in managing group dynamics.

7. Developing new ideas to solve customers' problems.
Recommended by 74.4% of managers surveyed.
A vast number of products and services now sell based on customer ratings and reviews. To get top reviews, you need to provide something that meets the needs of customers exceptionally well. Approaches like design thinking and ethnographic research can help you develop highly satisfying products, and customer experience mapping can help you deliver a satisfying customer journey.

8. Cultivating relationships with customers.
Recommended by 73.6% of managers surveyed.
"The way you do this depends on whether you serve consumer or business markets," Manktelow says. "When you're dealing with consumers, you'll get great insights into customer groups by segmenting your market and by developing customer personas representing these different segments."

9. Building trust within your team.
Recommended by 73.3% of managers surveyed.
When people don't trust one another in a team, they waste a huge amount of time politicking. By contrast, people in trusting teams work efficiently and well, and they can deliver wonderful results. To build trust, you need to lead by example, communicate honestly and openly, get to know individuals as people, avoid blame, and discourage behaviors that breach trust.

10. Using emotional intelligence.
Recommended by 72.1% of managers surveyed.
"All managers need emotional intelligence to be effective," Birkinshaw says. "This means having the self-awareness, self-control, motivation, empathy and social skills needed to behave in a mature, wise, empathetic way with the people around you. Emotionally intelligent managers are a joy to work with, which is why they attract and retain the best people."

"Even if you already feel like you have some of these skills, know that there is always more to learn, and the results will show in your improved leadership," Manktelow says. "Practice them until they become effortless, and, in time, not only will you perform better, you'll get better results from your team and stand out as a talented leader within your organization."

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.


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