People management is one of the principal skills that any leader needs to have. And yet it is also one of the most difficult to master. People are far more complex and unpredictable than almost anything else we deal with in business. Their behaviour is hard to influence, and even harder to predict and plan for.

And as leaders, we all need to work hard on maintaining our people management skills too. Being a good people manager isn’t about learning a few tried and tested methods, and then just sticking to them. It is about continual development. It’s about having the ability to take a flexible approach as people and circumstances change. Regardless of how long we’ve been in business, there is always room for improvement.

But it is also worth – once in a while – going back to the basics. So with that in mind, here are my five golden rules of people management.

Five Golden Rules of People Management

Rule 1: Start with a compelling vision

The vision you have for your team or your business, is where it all begins. Every entrepreneur knows that having a vision of what you want to achieve is critical to the success of their business. And as leaders, whether or not we run our own company, formulating a vision is crucial.

Here’s why. The first reason is that an inspiring, transformative vision acts as a rallying point. It is, in essence, how your company might one day change the world. It could be ‘To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy’ (Tesla). Or it might simply be to ‘Spread Ideas’ (TED). But if it is aspirational enough, it will attract the kind of people who share your passion. It gives everyone who works for you a very clear end goal.

And most importantly, a well-communicated vision simply makes the daily tasks that they do more meaningful. The experts at Forbes recently researched this. They discovered that employees who don’t find their company’s vision meaningful in any way have average engagement scores of only 16 per cent.

When your teams feel engaged and as if every job they do contributes to a broader journey, your job as a leader is much easier.

Rule 2: Treat everyone the same way…

Consistency as a people manager is absolutely crucial. We have all been in situations where we’ve seen other people treated differently to us. We are hardwired to recognise and react badly to inconsistency. Think back to childhood, at school or at home. Not being treated equally to others causes deep-rooted resentment.

To make sure this doesn’t happen in your teams, you can do a couple of things. The first is simply to lead by example. Treat yourself exactly as you would all of the other people who work for you. Apply the same standards and expectations to your own behaviour, and be a role model for your wider team.

Secondly, be very clear about what those expectations are. Good, consistent communication is at the heart of effective people management. And when we set expectations, this is particularly important. Establish exactly what you need from people, and communicate this clearly and consistently to everyone.

Rule 3: …But also remember that everyone is different

Consistency is crucial in terms of expectations, ways of working and even performance targets. But the other great skill of a good people manager is also to be flexible.

By this, I mean simply recognising that everyone is different. This may seem obvious. But it is actually quite easy to forget in a working environment that is focused on processes and regulatory conformity.

So how does this difference manifest itself? In my experience, it can be in a variety of ways. Different paces of working. Different ways of taking in and interpreting information. Different levels of emotion intelligence and interpersonal skills.

Take all of these factors into account and adapt your approach. A team is, after all, still a collection of individuals.

Rule 4: Listen

If effective people management is actually a combination of many different skills, listening is one of the most important. As leaders, listening has to be one of our key activities, taking up a large proportion of our time.

Leadership development expert Jack Zenger explains that “leaders with a preference for listening are rated as significantly more effective than those who spend the majority of their time holding forth.”

When we listen well as leaders, it creates many different benefits. It gives us valuable feedback on our own performance, for one.

But it also flattens out the hierarchy between a leader and their teams. When a team feels listened to, they feel more engaged in the company. They feel that they are contributing to the business in a tangible way, with their own ideas. They understand that what they do brings value to the team. And when they’re listened to, and people act on their views, levels of trust rise within the company.

Rule 5: Always Reward and Recognise

All of these first four rules about people management feed into one final big one: the need to reward and recognise.

When people do things that take your team or your company closer to realising its vision, reward and recognise this. When they work in a way that is a model and an example to other team members, reward and recognise this.

And when they contribute their ideas and take the time to engage in the future of the business, reward and recognise this.Why? Because without reward and recognition, the relationship between leader and team becomes one-sided. When people see that leaders don’t recognise or value what they do, they become disengaged.

And when that happens, ultimately, they walk away – and you lose out.