Following these 3 science-backed tips can help you excel as a manager

Climbing the corporate ladder in pursuit of better pay and bigger achievements always includes added responsibility. Everyone wants the corner office and executive level perks, but far fewer numbers are willing to endure the additional scrutiny and liability that invariably comes with positions of considerable organizational power. For many first-time leaders, one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of ascending to a managerial or executive position is the prospect of leading and overseeing other employees. 

Luckily, the burgeoning boss doesn’t have to go it alone anymore. Recent years have seen a slew of relevant scientific research emerge regarding how best to navigate succeeding as a manager and eventually grow into the best boss possible. Let’s take a look at three science-backed tips that can help you excel as a leader.

Don’t bring work home with you

For countless managers, more responsibility means more hours. It’s a bit easier to disconnect from work worries when you aren’t the one who has to account for low revenue or lost clients, after all. Plenty of bosses who find themselves working on a near 24/7 basis tell themselves that sleepless nights and missed familial moments are simply the price one pays for success, but recent research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology challenges this archaic notion in a big way.

Scientists from the University of Florida, the University of Arizona, and Florida State University collaborated to analyze the impact of work-life balance on professional outcomes among a group of managers, and the ensuing findings were telling. Bosses who could disconnect from work while at home tended to report feeling more refreshed the next day. A healthier work-life balance was also associated with more effective leaders, as such bosses helped their employees maintain focus throughout the work day far better than other managers who found it much harder to mentally leave work behind each day. Importantly, the study notes less-experienced leaders are especially likely to fall into the common pitfall of bringing work home with them.

“The simple message of this study is that if you want to be an effective leader at work, leave work at work,” says research leader Klodiana Lanaj, a professor in UF’s Warrington College of Business, in a university release. “This is particularly important for inexperienced leaders, as they seem to benefit the most from recovery experiences when at home. Leaders have challenging jobs as they juggle their own role responsibilities with the needs of their followers, and they need to recover from the demands of the leadership role.”

“You can start small,” she adds. “Say, ‘After this time in the evening, I won’t check my work email.’ See where that takes you.”

Bring home to work (kind of)

The idea of bringing your family life with you to work may sound counterproductive at first, but hear us out. No one is saying your significant other and children should commute to the office with you Monday through Friday. A few moments of daily reflection on one or two heartwarming family moments is enough to enjoy the intended effect.

Another timely recent study conducted at the University of Florida and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology reports that when managers reflect on gratitude received from loved ones, it helps promote more effective leadership in professional settings. Put another way, think back to a time you made a positive difference in the life of a family member. Researchers found that reflecting on moments like those helps leaders feel more capable of enacting viable positive change for their employees.

“Taking a few minutes in the morning to reflect on and write about a time when a family member said ‘thank you’ for something you did at home can motivate you as a leader to be more responsive to your employees’ work needs and to empower them to have a voice in important decisions at work,” Prof. Lanaj explains in another university release. “Our research suggests that positive events that happen at home don’t need to stay there. Instead, they can follow leaders at work in ways that benefit their employees.”

On a more tangible level, study authors say managers who would like to try this approach out just need to follow these two steps:

  • In the morning, take a moment to think back to an instance when you helped or did something good for a family member and they reciprocated with expressions of gratitude.
  • Close your eyes and mentally place yourself back in that moment. Then, in just three to five sentences, describe what you did, what your family member said or did, and how you felt after receiving your loved one’s appreciation.

Mandatory explanations improve team efficacy

Many managers choose to be friends with their employees first and bosses second, but such an approach rarely leads to optimal performances and better results. Take one study just published in Behavioural Research in Accounting for example. Scientists from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that it’s advisable for managers to mandate that employees specifically explain their contributions to work projects and tasks. 

The research uncovered that when less-skilled workers are allowed to report their performances voluntarily, they often end up exaggerating their contributions and asking for bigger bonuses. On the other hand, when such reports are made mandatory, it’s far more conducive to a fairer work environment in relation to team dynamics, as well as employee honesty and quality of work. Subsequently, managers are better equipped to make fair decisions for everyone.