Becoming a Complete People Manager

The five archetypes of good people managers

Everyone has had good managers and bad managers, and everyone much prefers good managers. Good managers are masters of several different dimensions of people management and are able to adjust their style to the needs of the particular employee and situation. When I mentor managers, I use five archetypes to describe the different methods of people management: the Supervisor, the Motivational Speaker, the Mentor, the Advocate, and the Captain. Great managers are masters of each archetype and avoid overdoing any of them.

The Supervisor

The most basic dimension of people management is the Supervisor. In the Supervisor role, you ensure that your staff meets all basic expectations—for example, that employees start work on time, fill out the requisite paperwork, and follow all other company policies, such as dress codes. The Supervisor assigns work that employees can complete in short periods of time, explains how to complete the work, and keeps a close eye on employees to ensure that tasks are completed correctly and on time. The Supervisor helps employees quickly become successful at their jobs.

The most appropriate time to invoke the Supervisor role is when you have new employees or when a difficult or critical task must be completed. Used in the wrong situation, the Supervisor can easily be perceived by employees to be a micromanager. Be careful about adopting the Supervisor role with employees who are experienced and have proven to be efficient at their jobs.

The Motivational Speaker

Part cheerleader, part confidant, the Motivational Speaker represents the evolutionary step beyond the Supervisor. The Motivational Speaker builds a strong team by increasing team morale and individuals' confidence. These management attributes are critical when the team encounters stressful situations, such as tight deadlines.

Great managers have the pulse of their staff's morale and confidence. You should adopt the Motivational Speaker persona when you feel that your team's confidence in the organization or an employee's confidence in his or her abilities is waning. If the Motivational Speaker role is used too often or at an inappropriate time, a manager can be seen as being disingenuous or out of touch with the realities that the staff feels. The key to mastering the Motivational Speaker role is knowing when to listen, when to give a pep talk, and when to bestow ad hoc rewards.

The Mentor

As employees' abilities grow and employees take on more responsibilities, the Mentor guides them to ensure that they'll be successful in situations that might be unfamiliar. Unlike the Supervisor, who assigns specific, time-bounded tasks and shows employees precisely how to complete each task, the Mentor assigns higher-level tasks to employees, gives them appropriate guidance as how to best complete the task, and allows them a great deal of autonomy.

Adopting the Mentor role is most appropriate when you have one or more high-performing employees seeking to advance their careers or take on bigger tasks—for example, moving from deploying Web servers to deploying a multitiered farm of Web servers. Be careful about being a Mentor to employees who need a Supervisor; they might feel ignored by a manager who mentors too often, or they might feel that their manager is constantly vague and unengaged.

The Advocate

Beyond the Mentor role, the Advocate is the least hands-on of any of the people-management archetypes. The Advocate implicitly trusts employees' ability and judgment. The Advocate gives employees very little guidance and instead obtains resources, removes roadblocks, and otherwise promotes his or her employees' work to create an environment in which employees can grow and succeed.

Adopt the Advocate role when you have star employees who need to have roadblocks and other distractions removed to accomplish their goals. The most difficult part of the Advocate role is to not feel threatened by star employees, but rather to understand that enabling employees to accomplish great things is one of the highest achievements a manager can attain. Mastering the Advocate role lets you succeed in one of the most difficult aspects of people management: managing the star employee.

Adopting the Advocate role requires you to enable employees to act on your behalf, so you need to be able to trust their judgment. If you use the Advocate persona with employees who aren't fully confident in their own abilities or who lack the skills to meet their goals, they'll feel as if they aren't part of the team.

The Captain

The most highly evolved people manager is the Captain. The Captain is the master of all the other archetypes—an inspiring leader who has the confidence of employees even when times are tough and challenges seem insurmountable. The Captain marshals resources, attracts talent, and creates road-maps that the staff can rally around. You can assume the Captain role when staff, other employees, and senior management have respect and faith in your vision and abilities.

3 Steps to Becoming a Complete Manager

Once you understand the five management archetypes, you can apply them. Here are three steps to help you apply your knowledge of the archetypes to your own situation and become a complete people manager.

  1. Self-assessment—Ask yourself which archetype you actively exhibit. Start by listing your employees and their objectives and mapping out the management style that each situation calls for. Then ask yourself how confident you are that in each situation you're doing the things that will help your employees excel.
  2. Employee assessment—Explain the five archetypes to each of your employees and ask what he or she would like to see from you with respect to his or her duties. Compare what employees expect from you to how you mapped out the management style each situation calls for, analyze the discrepancies, and then adapt your management style accordingly.
  3. Skill building—Seek mentors from among the ranks of effective people managers—the Captains in your organization. Pay close attention to how those managers use the five people management archetypes in specific scenarios and what the effects are.

Exercise the Correct Management Style

Although there are certainly some bad people managers, more often than not managers are perceived as being "bad" because they either aren't exercising the correct management style in the appropriate situations or are overdoing a certain style. By becoming a more complete people manager, you can avoid being tagged as a bad manager and work toward becoming a Captain yourself.

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