How to Be a Good Manager (13 Traits You Must Have)
At some point, you’ve probably heard or said the following: “That was the best boss I’ve ever had.”
It begs the question:
Out of all the bosses we’ve had, why do some bosses stand out? What separates the great bosses from the not-so-great bosses?
There are many theories that provide different, and sometimes conflicting, answers. From management styles to personality traits, there are and will always be different ways to describe how to be a good manager.
But in this article, we won’t explore too much theory; rather, we’ll look at some of the traits that can make you excel at managing your team. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a team of four or five creatives or whether you’re leading a diverse team at a busy agency full of hundreds of different professionals.
The skills we will explore cut across team size, organization culture, and personality traits, and are relevant to managers of all levels.
First off, who is a manager? The most straightforward definition is this:
A manager is someone who is responsible for the performance of a group of people.
If you’re involved in hiring decisions, task delegation, and are responsible for providing feedback and direction, you are a manager.
But what makes a great manager and separates them from ordinary managers? Great managers understand that:
Differences of trait and talent are like blood types: They cut across the superficial variations of race, sex, and age, and capture each person’s uniqueness.
They leverage the uniqueness of each individual so they can reach their maximum potential.
In a project dubbed Oxygen, Google did blind interviews with their managers to find out what traits made their best managers exceptional.
To learn why these managers were so successful, they conducted interviews using the same set of questions to determine the traits that the best managers shared.
They found their best managers to be:
- Good coaches
- Productive and results-oriented
- Effective communicators
- Technically skilled: they had skills that helped the team be more productive
- Empathic: they expressed interest and concern for their team members’ success and well being
- Strategic: they always had a clear vision/strategy for their team
- Trusting of their team: they gave them space to work creatively and didn’t micromanage them
They found that the team members with the best managers were overall more satisfied. They also found that team members with the best managers treated each other with respect were able to balance their work and personal lives and were involved in decision making.
Employees would often leave their teams just to join the teams with the best managers—no surprise here.
In reality, there are more traits (and skills) that contribute to the success of a manager. We’ll explore some of them below.
Traits of Good Managers
The following are traits (and skills) that the best managers have.
1. Personality Traits
- emotional intelligence
- non-verbal intelligence
- communication and listening
- confidence and decision-making
- free-spirited and positive
- flexibility/respect for employees
- honesty and selflessness
- focused and goal-driven
2. Day-to-Day Management Skills
- task management and delegation
- problem-solving and critical thinking
- time management and organization
- conflict resolution
- work/life balance
Below we’ll see both the personal and day-to-day traits every good manager should possess.
Personality Traits of Good Managers
In this section, we’ll look at the personality traits a manager should possess in order to excel at his/her job.
The personality traits we’re going to explore include:
1. Emotional Intelligence
As management is very people-focused, emotional intelligence is a must-have if you want to succeed as a manager.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity for self-awareness. It is the ability to express as well as control one’s emotions, and manage interpersonal relationships well. People will often substitute empathy with emotional intelligence. They aren’t totally wrong. Empathy is only one aspect of emotional intelligence, but it is one of the most defining features.
If you fail to properly read the emotions of those on your team, you will commit blunders that will only lead to feelings of resentment. You must show those in your care that you’re aware of and sensitive to their feelings.
The average employee wants to advance and be productive. A bad manager (stone-hearted ogre) will only discourage and demotivate such a worker. On the other hand, a manager who’s open, kind, and compassionate will drive and motivate employees to put in their best work.
Compassion and kindness will push even the most slothful sloth on your team to be more productive.
2. Non-Verbal Intelligence
Non-verbal intelligence is an extension of emotional intelligence. It is the art (or skill) of picking up subtle cues given off by body language, facial expression, posture, etc.
Research actually shows that non-verbal cues are the most accurate representation of what a person feels. This corroborates the truism “actions speak louder than words.” A good manager is perceptive and can discern a person’s mood and feelings fairly accurately. This skill is particularly useful in conflict resolution. It can help you determine the root causes of dissatisfaction.
Peter Drucker, commonly known as the “father of management thinking,” is quoted as saying, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
3. Communication and listening
The best managers are effective communicators. They are able to pass across information with clarity.
This skill is important, especially when giving direction to your team. It is your job to assimilate the company’s values and ideals and then relay them to your team members with equal clarity. This way they’re motivated and strive for excellence as you’ve shown them what to aspire to.
Good managers aren’t just effective communicators—they are also great listeners. Remember Peter Drucker’s quote from the previous section? “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Although Drucker is emphasizing attentiveness, he is also indirectly saying that listening is a very important aspect of communication too.
Your team has to feel like you’re listening to them. They should be able to air their triumphs, concerns, and even their fears, knowing that you’re paying attention.
4. Confidence and decision making
There are so many ways that your team looks up to you. One of the things they look up to you for is your decisiveness. When push comes to shove, they expect you to not only take action but to make decisions with an unquestionable finality.
Henry Ford was known for his decisiveness. At one time, people pressured him to adapt to the changing automobile designs of that time. He refused and continued to make the older models. He was decisive. Although he was pressured, he made a decision and then stood by it.
It is better to spend time making decisions and then sticking to them than to quickly make decisions and then change them as quickly.
The latter approach will make you look unsure of yourself.
5. Free-spirited and positive
No one likes a downer.
People are surprisingly adept at mirroring what other people feel. Your team members can pick up on what you’re feeling and then transfer it to their own team members.
You must not be happy and jumpy all the time but you should learn to see the bright side of the majority of the situations.
You are responsible for establishing and maintaining the culture of your company among your teammates. If the culture in your company is cheerful and positive, your attitude should reflect those as well.
6. Flexibility and respect for employees
Again, this trait is closely tied to the emotional intelligence (empathy) trait we talked about. Remember we also talked about how great managers using individual strengths to optimize workers’ productivity?
Well, let’s illustrate by using a case study done by an HBR writer.
Michelle (a store manager), had an employee (Jeffery) who was responsive only to precise instructions. If she told Jeffery to “Straighten up the merchandise in every aisle,” he would shuffle about aimlessly and take a ridiculous amount of time to get the job done.
On the other hand, she found that if she gave him a specific instruction like “Put up all the risers for Christmas,” all the risers would be symmetrical, with the right merchandise on each one, perfectly priced, labeled, and faced (turned toward the customer).
If he was given a generic task, he would struggle. But if he was given a specific task, one that forced him to be accurate and analytical, he would excel.
As a result of this discovery, Michelle assigned arranging of merchandise to Jeffrey and freed his colleagues to do the things they generally enjoyed and were better at.
She didn’t stop there either. She devised schemes to help him do his job more effectively. As a result of her efforts, her store netted perfect scores in the brand’s mystery shopper program.
Michelle succeeded because she assigned each worker where they were most efficient. Michelle was flexible. Be like Michelle.
7. Honesty and selflessness
One way for you to make your team more productive is to instill trust. It takes strength of character for a manager to tell a team member the truth even though it is unpalatable
You’d think your employees couldn’t manage your brutal honesty. Quite the opposite is true. One survey by Glassdoor revealed that 90% of job seekers say it’s important to work for a company that embraces transparency. In another Glassdoor survey, 35% of job applicants said a company’s culture would drive them to apply for a role.
Contrary to what you may think, employees really care about how honest you are with them.
A manager who encourages a culture of trust and straightforwardness and doesn’t sugarcoat or evade the truth inspires her team because she is authentic and direct. There is also the added advantage that it nips unproductivity in the bud as it prevents rumors and misinformation.
8. Focused and goal-driven
Being goal-oriented involves setting goals you know are achievable based on experience or backed by verifiable facts. The best managers are goal-driven; their actions line up with the goals they’ve set and they can influence their team to align with the realistic goals they’ve set.
The same also goes for being focused.
Managing a team and being responsible for their productivity, while trying to meet tight deadlines and dealing with monster clients, can result in near insanity. It takes a strong will to remain focused; being focused is a necessity rather than a nice-to-have trait.
Day-to-Day Traits of Good Managers
In this section, we’ll explore the skills and techniques you can use to become more efficient at coordinating, managing, and even inspiring your team.
The day-to-day management skills we’re going to explore include:
9. Task management and delegation
We’ve already talked about assigning tasks to the right people, and we’ve already established that best managers study their team members and then assign tasks to the individuals most suited for it.
In this section, we’re going to focus on delegation.
In an article published on his website, Jim Collins argues that the best leaders (managers) stand out “not with where but with who. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
You cannot do everything yourself. You need to study your team (non-verbal intelligence) and figure out who is best at certain tasks, and then appoint those tasks to them.
This way, they’re engaged and motivated to increase their output as they’re applying their strengths to doing what they enjoy.
Happy employees are productive employees.
10. Problem-solving and critical thinking
Management is difficult and fraught with problems. You cannot escape them.
You may be on a tight deadline and suddenly, your web designer gets the flu and can’t work. What do you do? Two of your team members are always at loggerheads and you cannot seem to get them to cooperate. How do you get them to work together without ripping out each other’s throats?
These are just some of the many nightmares (or daymares) that you may encounter. You need to be able to find solutions to problems fast. Good managers have problem-solving skills and can always find solutions to problems as they arise.
Even if you weren’t born with a high IQ, all hope isn’t lost. Problem-solving is a skill just like riding a bike, for example, and it can be taught as well as learned. You only have to be attentive.
There are countless self-help books that could help you improve your problem-solving skills. If you are a more hands-on learner, you could take a course that has exercises you can practice. Working with a coach is another viable option.
11. Time management and organization skills
Time is extremely important and valuable to everyone; as a manager, you should be able to prioritize your time and make use of it wisely. Time won’t stop or slow down for you. Setting reminders on your calendar or on a task management app like Basecamp, can improve your work efficiency and prevent working under deadline pressure. Being able to organize your tasks and activities will prevent you from mixing things up or losing track of what you have to do.
12. Conflict resolution
When you put people from different backgrounds, cultures, and levels of education together and ask them to work together to achieve a common goal, rest assured there are going to be some conflict.
Because no two people are alike, and because no two people have exactly the same likes and dislikes, you have your work cut out for you. Conflict management skills will help you resolve conflicts sensibly and fairly.
With everyone striving to prove their value, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. The best managers can help their team members get along with each other and put strategies in place that will prevent future tussles.
13. Work/life balance
Finally, there is a fine line between diligence and overwork. A good manager must know where the line is and not cross it.
All work and no play, they say…
If you overwork yourself and end up being stressed, your coping mechanisms will kick into action and you may transfer aggression onto your subordinates.
Great managers know the essence of taking time off to recharge. Take some time off to spend with your loved ones; spoil yourself or take up that hobby you left long ago. You’ll get back to work feeling rejuvenated and ready to complete the tasks ahead of you.
Traits to Avoid If You Are a Manager
Since we’ve talked about some of the traits you should aspire to, let’s now look at the things you should avoid.
This is the easiest way to crush the spirit of your employees. It makes you come across as immature and will hinder communication as they will be less likely to want to give you updates about their work. They’ll avoid you like the plague.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be firm. You should be firm and give corrections when you need to, but you should go about it in a respectful and non-threatening way.
There’s no need to be hostile toward your team members. They will respond to you if you treat them firmly but kindly.
I know. You want the highest quality work and frankly, you’re not sure your team members are up to the task, so you hang around them, constantly looking over their shoulders like a grumpy schoolteacher. This will only end up frustrating them.
This attitude subtly tells them that you don’t trust their work and that you’re not confident in their abilities.
Instead of fussing over all the details and hanging around them, give them the space to do what they’re good at and then give them actionable feedback. Show them where to improve and give them guidance as to how to improve.
Sure, you need confidence. And you don’t just need confidence in yourself and your abilities—you need to have confidence in your team members as well.
But you can have too much confidence, and that usually leads to disaster.
In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahneman called overconfidence “the most significant of the cognitive biases,” as it is ubiquitous and can have negative consequences.
Overconfidence in the Titanic’s captain (manager) led to the cold and icy death of thousands of passengers in the Atlantic.
You may not be managing huge projects, but there is still a potential for disaster if you become overconfident.
Overconfidence is around the corner when you fail to consider the information you don’t have or when you fail to validate the information you have. There is one thing you can do, however; when you’re about to make a decision, think carefully about the steps, and note areas you don’t know or are unfamiliar with. Then take steps to fill your knowledge gap.
That way, you’ll make informed decisions.
4. Rigidity and inflexibility
Being too rigid can stop your team’s progress dead in its tracks.
Situations aren’t cut and dry. There is always more than one way to do a particular task.
So, when you judge your workers based on every nit-picking procedure and are making them follow every procedure regardless of surrounding circumstances, you may be doing things wrong.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea; processes and procedures are good, but you still need to know that occasionally, you’ll need to operate outside of established rules to achieve the bottom line.
Flexibility is one of the qualities that can make you and your team more effective and efficient.
How can SweetProcess make you a better manager?
Processes are a way to ensure efficiency.
Steve Jobs knew one or two things about running a company, as he was in charge of one of the most successful tech companies.
Even he is quoted as saying, “Process makes you more efficient.”
Standard operating procedures are a way for you to ensure that your clients get a consistent quality of work. They also help your team members know exactly what is required of them. And you can scale and grow your business easily if your SOPs (standard operating procedures) are well documented and accessible. Basically, SOPs provide the systematization you need.
But SOPs can be tricky sometimes.
However, with SweetProcess, you can easily create SOPs and share them with a teammate. It doesn’t stop there. You can also keep track of things as they get done.
With a host of other advanced features, SweetProcess makes systematization really easy.
Building and nurturing these skills will take you a very long way on your journey as a manager. You can use tools like SweetProcess to allow efficient communication with your team, well-planned task management, and pressure-free delegating.
In as much as all the skills listed above are very important, it is imperative to know that the most vital skills you can possess to be excellent and not just a good manager are effective communication, listening, task management, and delegation skills.
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