Becoming a good manager is not an overnight sensation. Even seasoned professionals need practical guidance when navigating leadership roles.
This article provides practical advice to help both rising and experienced managers become great managers.
What makes a good manager?
According to the Harvard Business Review, the definition of a great manager is someone who can "discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it."
They are team leaders who take the time to get to know their team members and create shared goals that secure buy-in. A good manager should also communicate effectively with their team to ensure clear expectations and so team members feel empowered to hold their managers accountable.
Let’s start with what not to do...
There isn't one way to be a good manager; there are many. But sometimes the best way to determine how to do something is to look at what not to do. We’ve found that good managers don’t have any of the following bad habits.
Lack of communication
When a manager fails to properly inform their team, listen, or empower members to speak up, they’re usually not good at communication. An absence of transparency can lead to mistrust in the workplace. Ultimately, poor team communication gives rise to poor morale and lackluster team performance.
Pushing responsibility for their actions onto others
A manager who can't own up to their mistakes creates a limiting environment. We've all had that one boss who could never admit that they were wrong. You'd brace yourself each time there was a mistake because you knew that no matter what, it would be your fault. The worst thing about this is that it stunts the team's growth. No one wants to take risks or learn a new skill because they're used to being on the defensive.
Conflict is a natural part of any team. How a manager handles team conflict has a significant impact on the way that everyone will work together as they move forward. If a team leader ignores or adds to the tension, the team will struggle to find a resolution. However, if the manager uses it as a teaching moment to engage their staff in problem-solving, they can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
Vague direction or feedback
A poor manager assumes their team knows what to do and — if they’re underperforming — that it’s the employee’s fault. When a manager only gives orders and fails to provide feedback, they leave the door open for problems down the road. This impacts all levels of the organization, from senior management down to team leaders and front-line employees.
Never recognizing staff
Employee motivation is the critical driver of performance and retention. When managers fail to acknowledge the success of their teams, they demotivate everyone involved. One Gallup research study found that managers influence up to 70% of the variance in employee motivation. A great manager creates systems to show team appreciation that motivates each team members according to their needs.
Lack of availability
The hustle and bustle of the office can make even the most effective manager resort to leading through email. You start with canceling one meeting, and soon, your weekly in-person meeting has morphed into a biweekly phone call. A lack of availability can unintentionally communicate a lack of caring. Team leaders should make time to check in with their direct reports to create a supportive working environment.
Now that that part is out of the way, what are the qualities of a good manager?
Good managers have to practice their leadership skills daily. As noted earlier, there isn't one sure way to be an effective manager. However, there are some qualities that all great managers share in common, including having a vision, building trust, and practicing communication skills.
Having and leading in accordance with a vision
Leaders are set apart by their vision. They are the ones who can see the big picture when the rest of the world is consumed with what's right in front of them. A good manager knows what they want, and they know how they plan to achieve it.
Most importantly they know their team — their needs, strengths, and weaknesses — and can place people in the positions that work best for them. Having a clear understanding of each person's strengths and weaknesses allows a manager to strategically position team members to reach their personal goals as well as overall team objectives.
Practicing good communication skills
Communication is at the foundation of every successful team, and great leaders practice communication regularly. The key word here is practice. Even if you pride yourself on being a champion communicator, it's a skill that requires frequent tuning. Make sure you’re using active listening techniques like listening closely and repeating back what you heard. Try this in all your conversations, not just those with your direct reports, so it becomes a habit.
Create a work culture built on trust
You may have heard people say that healthy relationships are built on trust, and the same goes for work relationships. In the work world, trust is almost the opposite of micromanaging, which usually results from a lack of trust.
Managers should provide their employees with autonomy and the freedom to make decisions. A good leader trusts their team not only to follow through as discussed but to find a solution to challenges encountered along the way. Through regular employee engagement and professional development opportunities, team members gain the confidence and capacity to lead on their own.
Take time for yourself
Wouldn't it be nice if you could do all the things that you want to do in one day? Too often, leaders burn themselves out on their quest to become a better manager. But a tired and exhausted leader is no good to anyone. Managers should be willing to delegate tasks and take vacation days. A great manager models a healthy work-life balance.
Every role model needs someone to look up to. A mentor helps you reflect on your management style and how the decisions you make today will impact you and those around you. Professionals at any stage of their career can benefit from a mentor, but new managers especially should seek out guidance early to gain invaluable relationships and support when navigating challenges.
Good Manager, Better Business Owner
A good manager is a visionary with strong communication skills who knows how to motivate others. These qualities are essential when managing a company, too, particularly if you own your own business. Much like a manager, as a business owner, you set the tone for the success and build a vision others can buy into.
However, while a manager has a big job, a business owner has even greater responsibilities. As a business owner, ultimately, everyone depends on you. You make the decisions that set the company up for growth. That’s part of why building your leadership skills is so essential. Those are the qualities that will carry you from the startup stage and beyond.
Taking the next steps
The good news is that as a manager you already have much of what you need to succeed as a business owner. Building on qualities like communication, vision and personal responsibility, you’re already part of the way there. You just need a business model to plug into place — and a few key pointers from an operational perspective — and you have all the ingredients to start your own company.
Wondering how you can take the first step? If you’re ready to take on your biggest leadership yet and run your own business, read our guide on how to be your own boss.