Working in collaboration with teams and supervising others is humbling. When you think about it, nobody is born to be a manager. A friend of mine in the field of archives mentioned to me years ago that, when we are little children and asked what we want to be when we grow up, responses are “librarian,” “teacher,” “doctor” and so forth. Nobody dreams of being a library director, a principal or a hospital administrator, yet as we continue along our career paths, sooner or later we find ourselves in a position of authority.

After many years working under the direction of managers in higher education, I was offered a role with responsibility for supervising a department of university students. I can say with absolute authority that I blundered many aspects of leadership, and my crew was quick to show me the error of my ways. Like many, I was taught how to manage projects, software, budgets, but nowhere along my career did anyone teach me how to manage people.

When we speak of management, I believe what we really should be doing is coaching and motivating people as a priority, rather than managing objects and things. Properly supported and allowed room to work, your team will achieve success. After a few years of mistakes, I distilled my managerial theory into four simple rules. Every decision I’ve made that was successful followed these principles.

First, and the simplest, is that you praise people publicly, and criticize privately. There is nothing that rewards people as in sharing their accomplishments to the group. Likewise, if you want to sow seeds of sedition, blow up at them or criticize them personally in front of others. If you must criticize in front of colleagues, such as in a meeting, criticize the project detail and not the person. Make certain you offer thoughts on how to make the project better or solve the problem.

Second, we all have complaints about work. Procedures that fail, difficult persons and other obstacles litter every workplace. If you want to complain, complain up the chain of command, and never down to team members that report to you. Complaining without providing a viable solution helps motivate nobody.

Third, managers best understand how to delegate and develop workflows when they are intimately familiar with the task at hand. I never assigned a project to anyone that I could not, and would not, be willing to do myself. Managers are time challenged, and the crew you hire and train is there to help you get the job done so you can spend time on the bigger picture. Be certain you know the job you’re assigning, especially if you’re needed to pitch in and help.

Fourth, and the most important rule of management I apply, is that the manager’s job is to remove the obstacles that prevent workers from performing the job they were hired to do. This can be as straightforward as anticipating supply needs, or upgrading that desktop PC built in 2008, but just as importantly, it can be understanding how the tragedies of personal lives can impact work. It’s impossible for someone to focus on work when a loved one is in the hospital, or a spouse is laid off. Sometimes, this also means putting yourself in harms way to protect your workers, such as confronting an unreasonable administrator and personally risking a backlash.

There are many guides for managing and coaching for performance out there, but I can say with authority that applying these four simple managing principles transformed my ability to lead a team. If you’re new to managing people and projects I hope you find these helpful in your career path.

— Lynn Bycko