Management Habits Spread Fast

Most people are terrible managers when they first start. And I was, too!

So, if you’re not careful, your poor management habits will start to spread across the company. Eventually, you’ll have a weak management team and extremely high staff turnover. No one wants to work for a shitty manager!

After hiring 100+ managers over the last 20 years, I quickly realized that becoming a high-performing manager isn’t about fancy titles or complex management frameworks. It’s about mastering a set of simple, positive, daily habits that compound over time. And good habits spread even faster than bad ones!

After observing hundreds of managers, I noticed that these 12 habits were shared by all of my highest-performing people. 

I wish someone had told me about these when I started leading teams! 

1. Provide business context

Your team is always operating at an information disadvantage.

They don’t have the same bird’ s-eye view as you do, and it’s easy for them to get lost in the day-to-day details of their work. That’s why it’s your job to paint the big picture and help them understand how their efforts fit into the larger goals of your startup.

Make sure they always know the answers to these three questions:

Weave this context into every meeting, email, and one-on-one conversation. Don’t assume that saying it once is enough—repetition is key to ensuring the message sinks in.

Use analogies, stories, and examples to make the context more tangible and relatable. And don’t forget to celebrate progress along the way. Acknowledging small wins helps keep everyone motivated and aligned.

Context is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Without it, your team is left in the dark, guessing what’s important and why. By providing clarity and direction, you give them the tools they need to make smart decisions and do their best work.

2. Set high standards

Good is the enemy of great.

As a leader, it’s your job to constantly raise the bar and inspire your team to do their best work. Believe in their potential and challenge them to push beyond their comfort zones.

Setting high standards isn’t about being a taskmaster or a perfectionist. It’s about creating a culture of excellence where everyone is encouraged to bring their A-game every day. This means setting clear expectations, providing the necessary resources and support, and holding people accountable for their commitments.

It also means leading by example. If you want your team to go above and beyond, you need to be willing to do the same. Put in the extra effort when it counts—show up early and stay late if necessary. Demonstrate the values and behaviors you want to see in others, and they’ll be more likely to follow suit.

But it isn’t just about working more…

Remember: Hard work gets you good, but leverage makes you great. Look for opportunities to create leverage through systems, processes, and delegation, and teach your team to do the same. 

3. Take ownership of problems

When things go wrong, it’s tempting to point fingers or sweep issues under the rug. But true leaders own their shit.

They take full accountability for problems and model this behavior for their team. This doesn’t mean shouldering all the blame, but rather taking responsibility for finding solutions and preventing future issues. 

Ownership means trading blame for responsibility. It means stepping up and saying, “I’m responsible for this, and I’m going to fix it.” It means being proactive rather than reactive, and looking for ways to improve systems and processes to avoid similar problems in the future.

Taking ownership also means creating a culture of transparency and trust. Encourage your team to surface issues early and often, without fear of reprisal.

Create a safe space for them to share their concerns and ideas, and work together to find solutions. Remember, problems are opportunities in disguise – they give you the chance to learn, grow, and make things better.

4. Focus, focus, focus

In a world of constant distractions, focus is a superpower. As a leader, it’s your job to help your team prioritize their efforts and stay focused on the things that matter most.

Get crystal clear on the top three goals for the year, quarter, and month—then ruthlessly eliminate anything that doesn’t align with those priorities. If everything is important, nothing is.

To help your team stay focused, create a clear roadmap with milestones and deliverables. Break big goals down into smaller, manageable tasks.

Focus isn’t just about saying no to distractions—it’s about saying yes to the things that matter. It’s about making tough choices and trade-offs in service of a greater goal. It’s about aligning resources and efforts around a shared vision, and making sure everyone is rowing in the same direction.

5. Lead with data

In a sea of opinions and emotions, data is a life raft. Use it to guide your decisions and help your team stay objective.

But keep in mind, data is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s not a substitute for judgment and experience. Never be afraid to use your gut to fill in the gaps and make the tough calls when necessary.

Leading with data means being curious and asking questions. It means digging beneath the surface to understand the root causes of problems and opportunities. It means using metrics and feedback loops to track progress and make course corrections along the way.

To make data-driven decisions, start by identifying the key metrics that matter most for your team and your business.

Set up dashboards and reporting systems to track these metrics over time, and make sure everyone has access to the same information. Use data to inform your hypotheses and experiments, and be willing to pivot when the evidence suggests a different path.

6. Be decisive

Analysis paralysis is the enemy of progress. As a leader, you’ll never have perfect information. But you still need to make decisions and keep things moving forward

Embrace the 80/20 rule and focus on making the 20% of decisions that will have 80% of the impact. Empower your team to make the rest of the day-to-day choices, and trust them to use their best judgment.

Being decisive doesn’t mean being reckless or impulsive. It means gathering the available information, weighing the options, and making a call based on the best available evidence. It means being willing to take calculated risks and learn from the outcomes. 

To be a decisive leader, start by setting clear priorities and guidelines for your team. Give them the autonomy to make decisions within those parameters, and provide feedback and support along the way.

When tough calls need to be made, gather input from your team and stakeholders, but don’t be afraid to make the final call. And if you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and move on.

7. Give feedback quickly but privately

Feedback is a gift—but only when it’s delivered with care and respect.

Make it a habit to give feedback regularly, ideally in the moment or shortly after an incident occurs. Avoid giving critical feedback in public, as this can damage trust and morale. Instead, pull people aside for a private conversation and focus on specific behaviors rather than personal attacks.

Giving effective feedback is an art and a science. It requires empathy, clarity, and a genuine desire to help the other person grow. Start by setting the right tone. Make it clear that your intention is to support and guide, not to criticize or blame. Use specific examples and observations to illustrate your point, and avoid generalizations or labels. 

Be hard on the issues, soft on the person. Focus on behaviors and outcomes, rather than personality traits or intentions. Ask questions to understand the other person’s perspective, and be open to feedback in return.

And don’t forget to balance constructive criticism with recognition and praise—people need to know what they’re doing well, not just what they need to improve.

8. Take feedback like an adult

Giving feedback is hard, but receiving it can be even harder.

When someone gives you feedback, resist the urge to get defensive or dismiss their perspective. Instead, take a step back and try to see the situation from their point of view. 

Thank them for sharing their thoughts, and look for truth in their words that you can use to improve. Believe it or not, feedback is a sign that people care enough to help you grow.

Taking feedback like an adult also means being open and curious, even when it’s uncomfortable. It means setting aside your ego and focusing on the message, not the messenger. It means being willing to acknowledge your blind spots and weaknesses, and taking steps to address them.

To make the most of feedback, start by creating a culture of openness and trust. Encourage your team to share their thoughts and ideas, and model the behavior you want to see.

When you receive feedback, listen actively and ask clarifying questions. Take time to reflect on what you’ve heard, and look for patterns or themes that emerge over time. And don’t forget to close the loop – let the person know how their feedback has influenced your thinking or actions.

9. Listen more than you talk

As a leader, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have all the answers. But the truth is, your team has valuable insights and perspectives that you might be missing.

Make a habit of asking questions and really listening to the responses. Encourage dissenting opinions and create a safe space for people to share their thoughts. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Listening is a skill that requires practice and intention. It means setting aside distractions and giving your full attention to the person speaking. Listening means asking open-ended questions and allowing space for silence and reflection. It means seeking to understand, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.

10. Never stop learning

The best leaders are the ones who never stop growing. They read books, attend workshops, seek out mentors, and constantly look for ways to improve their skills and knowledge. Encourage your team to do the same by creating opportunities for learning and development. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.

That said, learning isn’t just about acquiring new information—it’s about applying that knowledge in meaningful ways. It’s about experimenting, taking risks, and learning from failure. It’s about seeking out diverse perspectives and challenging your assumptions.

To make learning a priority, start by setting aside dedicated time for it. Block off your calendar for reading, reflection, and skill-building. Attend conferences and workshops that expose you to new ideas and approaches. Seek out mentors and coaches who can help you identify blind spots and areas for growth.

And don’t forget to create a culture of learning within your team. Encourage people to share their knowledge and expertise, and create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration. Celebrate failures as learning opportunities, and recognize people who take risks and try new things. The more you prioritize learning, the more agile and adaptable your team will become.

11. Empower your team

As a leader, your job isn’t to do all the work yourself…it’s to empower your team to take on the majority of the load.

This means giving people the autonomy and resources they need to do their best work, and trusting them to rise to the occasion.

Empowerment isn’t about abdicating responsibility or setting people up for failure. It’s about creating a culture of ownership and accountability, where everyone feels invested in the success of the team and the organization.

To empower your team, start by setting clear expectations and boundaries. Define the outcomes you’re looking for, but give people the freedom to determine how they’ll get there. Provide the necessary tools, training, and support, and then step back and let them take the lead.

Empowerment also means creating opportunities for growth and development. Give people stretch assignments that challenge them to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. Provide regular feedback and coaching, and celebrate their successes along the way.

12. Lead with empathy

At the end of the day, leadership is about people. It’s about understanding their needs, motivations, challenges, and helping them to be their best selves. This requires empathy, compassion, and a genuine desire to serve others.

Empathy doesn’t mean being a pushover or avoiding tough conversations. Empathy means seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.

It means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. It means recognizing that everyone has their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and experiences – and that these shape how they show up at work.

To lead with empathy, start by building strong relationships with your team. Take the time to get to know them as individuals, and show a genuine interest in their lives and well-being. Create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings, and listen without judgment or interruption.

Empathy also means being attuned to the emotional needs of your team. Recognize when someone is struggling or stressed, and offer support and resources. Celebrate their successes and milestones, and show appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

And let’s not forget self-empathy. Leadership can be a lonely and challenging role, and it’s easy to get caught up in the demands and pressures of the job. Make sure to take care of yourself— physically, emotionally, and mentally—so that you can show up as your best self for your team.

Becoming a high-performing manager is a journey, not a destination. It’s about showing up every day with intention, focus, and a commitment to growth—both for yourself and for your team.

And most importantly, remember that leadership is a choice.

It’s a choice to show up, to own your shit, to put your team first, and to never stop growing. It’s a choice to be the kind of leader that people want to follow—not because of your title or your authority, but because of who you are and how you step into the arena.

So choose leadership, every day. Choose to be the kind of manager that inspires, empowers, and elevates those around you. Choose to be the kind of leader that your team deserves.

Your business is counting on it. Now, get to work.

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