By Teri-Lee Adendorff

Management is an often-misunderstood job. Scores of people think that it’s all about spread sheets, scheduling and meetings. While management does include such activities, a manager’s primary, most indispensable skill, is their ability to listen, motivate and inspire their team. Being responsible for the morale and output of your team means that you need far more than advanced skills in Excel.

Start by being approachable. No matter what management style you have chosen to adopt, you must always maintainan air of availability. Your team should feel that you have their best interests at heart, and that you are always willing to listen and provide honest feedback. Only onceyou have asserted yourself as a willing participant in their careers, can you begin to expect them to honestly answer the following questions.

1. Why are you here?

This question will catch your team off guard. Too often, managers get stuck in a habit of speaking in corporate double-talk, using platitudes and buzzwords, diluting the message of their speech. Your team may be expecting you to do the same. Ask this simple question and go straight for the truth. This is no doubt a question that your team members have often pondered – it being one of the most fundamental questions in human existence. This question, because of its candid nature, will most likely evoke a telling answer. To answer this question, employees must verbally answer a lot of their own questions about their lives, whichcan be very revealing.

•    Ideal answer: “I am here because I believe in what I am doing, I enjoy this work and I want to become better at it.”
•    Worst-case answer: “I have no idea!”
These opposites (and the answers that fall in between) will tell you what you need to know about an employee’s level of commitment, fulfilment and prospects, allowing you to gauge the tone for the rest of the meeting.

2. What are you proud of?

This question will allow the employee to open up as they speak about their achievements, or tell you more about their strengths. All too often, managers tend to focus on the negative. Managers are the ones who reprimand you, who call your performance into question, who hold you accountable. Allowing a member to discuss their strengths, and being receptive and positive towards their answer will go a long way towardsbanishing the idea that managers are uptight and frightening!
•    Ideal answer: “I am proud of my growth, my perseverance and my ability to problem-solve.”
•    Worst-case answer: “What? You want to know what I’ve done RIGHT?”


3. What would you change, if you could?

This is a leading question – and in asking it, you must be well prepared for the employee to answer honestly, and reveal some uncomfortable truths. The first two questions have, hopefully, led to the employee feeling that this is a safe space for open dialogue, and will increase the possibility for a truthful and constructive answer. Many employees feel that their manager does not care about their input and opinion, and this question will make them feel valued, and could even lead to the company’s next “big idea”.

•    Ideal answer: Something constructive – showing that the employee spends time thinking about solutions, and invests time and effort into the functioning of the company.
•    Worst-case answer: “It doesn’t matter what I think. No one listens to me anyway.”

If you achieve ideal answers to these questions, it means that this team member is fulfilled and feels valued, meaning that you are doing an excellent job as a manager. However, worst-case answers indicate that your management style is not fostering a positive, productive attitude towards the employees’ task, and you need to spend some time reflecting on your own behaviour, as well as the performance of the employee.

Learn to get the best out of your team with the University of Cape Town Effective People Management short course or explore a career in executive coaching with the University of Cape Town Foundations of Corporate Coaching short course. The courses are presented part-time and entirely online by the University of Cape Town, in partnership with online education company, GetSmarter. For more information, contact Dominic on 021 447 7565 or on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alternatively visit to choose from over 30 online short courses designed to help you advance your career.