We’ve all heard that old adage: People leave managers, not companies. While that’s not necessarily the case 100% of the time, it is nevertheless undeniable that the person managing you has a significant impact on how you feel about your role, your potential for progression, and your organisation.

Models, theories and training courses abound on what it means to be a great manager. I could probably read one management book a week for the rest of my life, and still be coming across new and diverse advice as to how to manage people effectively.

It doesn’t need to be that complicated

For me, though, it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Over the course of my career I’ve personally experienced dreadful management (thankfully just the once!) and I’ve experienced stand out management, which has really allowed me to develop and fulfil my potential. The question is: What were those stand out managers doing so right, which the poor manager was failing at so abysmally?

The answer was very simple. They were being decent human beings.

It’s about forming great relationships

You see, when you strip back the hyperbole and the jargon, when you remove the requirement to follow complex models and overlay theory upon theory… being great at managing people is as simple as forming great relationships in any other area of your life. You form a strong relationship where you deliver against the basic psychological expectations one human has of another. You are trustworthy. You care. You take an interest. You help. You challenge – appropriately. You invest time. You share successes. You share failures… and you learn from those failures. And you prove that you are there for them.

The above set of character traits is applicable whether you want to be a great friend, a great spouse, or a great line manager. And sure, beyond that set of traits there will be differentials. A friend will likely be more caring, less challenging. You will almost certainly share the majority of your successes and failures with your partner or spouse. But, to a greater or lesser extent, all of these are traits which you need to demonstrate to be a successful line manager.

How to make a difference

You can read as many books, articles or theories on management techniques as you want. You can devote a disproportionate amount of your time to modelling the attributes a great line manager needs to demonstrate in order to enable their people to deliver results. But, when it comes down to it, these are not the things which will really make a difference. These are not the things which will cause your direct reports to either develop and thrive, or to wither and fade.

People respond to the humanistic nature of people. Being a great manager is all about developing a great relationship. It needs to be a relationship which delivers against a certain set of objectives for the business, but nevertheless, at the heart of it all it is just that. A relationship.

Put down the books

So my advice to anyone looking to improve their management approach is to put down the books. Leave the articles, the theories, and the models. You become better at managing people when you spend more time with people. When you strip line management down to its essence: that is, a relationship between two people. Develop trust. Care. Take an interest. Help. Challenge. Invest time. Share successes and failures. Prove that you are there for them. And if you do all of that, if you take time to be simply a decent human being… I genuinely believe that everything else will follow.