Not everyone is cut out to be a good manager. You could be the best coder in the engineering team or build the most advanced financial models, but that doesn’t mean you’d make a good manager. Why? Because managers manage people, and that demands soft skills that can’t be learned in an IT or financial analytics course.
We all recognize the stand-out managers that influence our careers. However, we may not be able to pinpoint exactly what those managers do that inspire us to be a better version of ourselves. Why do we admire them? How do they motivate us? What is their skill set beyond being a good communicator and approachable?
This article describes the qualities that make a good manager and gives nine ways that you can practice good management whether you aspire to the role or not.
Good managers understand the concept of trust, which is what delegating really is. Delegating is giving someone a task and then trusting them to carry it out. Micromanaging is the opposite of trust. It is giving someone a task without trusting them to complete it.
Micromanaging implies a lack of confidence in team members' abilities, and that affects morale. Also, trust is a two-way street, so if a manager lacks trust in their team, the feeling may well be mutual.
If you find yourself micromanaging, first ask yourself if you are delegating the right projects to the right people according to their strengths and weaknesses. Next, try not to micromanage, but offer help and support instead. You might be surprised at the results. Research conducted by Effectory, a provider of employee feedback solutions, found that almost 80% of employees who consider they have autonomy at work are engaged, accountable, and perform better.
For help as a first time manager, read, "11 Ways to Succeed As a First-Time Manager."
While employees don’t like to be micromanaged, they do want their managers to give them regular feedback. A study by Gallup found that most employees experienced a severe lack of employee feedback and communication with their manager. Moreover, most of them want feedback in the work environment, even if it’s negative.
Rather than looking over people’s shoulders, checking on progress, and giving directions, a great manager should meet with their team regularly to offer context on what they are doing. A successful manager offers support, help, and advice if requested. Think of your working relationship as an ongoing partnership where both you and the team are working together. You trust them to uphold their end of the bargain, and both parties’ opinions count.
Learn more on giving feedback, read "How to Lead a Performance Review."
Employees can’t work toward a goal if they don’t know what the goal is. A good manager will clearly define project goals and organizational goals and help individuals and teams with goal setting. Understanding the organization’s goals allows employees to see how they fit into the big picture, set priorities, and allocate resources accordingly.
Whether goals are learning new skills or improving productivity, one caveat is that the goals must be attainable. The best managers set people up for success and then reward them when they find success.
In feedback sessions and team meetings, make a point of explaining your own goals as a manager and how your team's goals are aligned. Act as a facilitator and a guide to help your teams meet their own goals and those of the organization.
Some managers have big egos, which will not earn the respect of their staff. They consider themselves superior to their reports—they are in terms of hierarchy, but that’s about it. Successful managers, on the other hand, practice humility. They know that among their teams are unique individuals with diverse backgrounds and first-rate skills whether they be engineers, marketers, or financial analysts. Good managers know that they can learn from these individuals, and they engage with their staff for exactly that reason.
Hone your communication skills and get to know your staff individually. Check-in with them and take an interest in what they do and know. Be concerned for their well-being. You might learn something, and they will feel appreciated. This is how mutual trust and respect grows.
Staff should be rewarded for their achievements, but there are drawbacks to any incentives mechanism. Unless the parameters are fair regarding who is rewarded and why, rewards can harm employee engagement.
For example, it is often the case that the best employees are the ones that get to work on priority or pet projects. These projects attract the most attention, and the teams on those projects are the most visible and the most likely to be recognized, rewarded, and promoted. Meanwhile, other employees become demoralized.
A better manager considers ways to reward all staff for their hard work, not just the most visible individuals.
There are new and innovative solutions emerging every day. You may not be a techie, but listen to the techies in your teams and consider what technology integrations make sense for your ecosystem. There are project management tools, communication collaboration tools, and tools to support decision-making. The list is endless, but many of them can make your teams more productive.
Your teams will appreciate the investment in worthwhile tools that make their lives easier and for asking them for feedback on solution ideas. You did ask them their opinions first, right? Remember, they know more than you about the tools they need because they are on the frontlines doing the work.
Good leaders rely on their direct reports to tell them the realities. If there is a problem with a product, they need to know to take steps to resolve it. The same rule should apply to what you communicate to your team.
Your management style should be frank and transparent, and you should not sugarcoat anything. That way, your reports know where they stand and what they must do. You should deliver bad news in a timely way, but always be there as support. If you hide information from your teams, it will erode the trust that you have built and affect employee morale.
A safe environment doesn’t just refer to Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations; it refers to the company culture. If you want your employees to tell you the truth, they have to feel safe doing so, and great leaders create an environment where mistakes and failure are not punished.
For example, in a startup, individuals and teams experiment until they come up with a breakthrough. But it takes many failures to find a breakthrough. That’s innovation, and it occurs when people are not afraid to experiment. Encourage your team to try new things and allow them to fail. Sooner or later, you’ll see progress.
Speaking of mistakes, we all make them, but as an effective manager you will gain respect and loyalty from your reports if you admit to yours.
Being accountable takes significant emotional intelligence (EQ), a trait of successful leaders. EQ allows leaders to make informed decisions that are not influenced by their innate biases or emotions.
To make it a teaching moment, consider telling your staff what you did wrong so that they learn too. For example, should you have collected more data before you made a decision? Did you take a shortcut with testing before launching a product? Set an example to your staff by motivating them to accept and learn from their mistakes.
For managerial positions, the qualities of a good manager are reflected more in their soft skills than their hard skills. It’s softs skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication that build relationships and motivate people, empowering them to succeed.
Like everything else, however, these leadership skills need to be practiced before they become second nature. So, learn from those around you as you go, be open to change, and accept accountability for the inevitable mistakes you will and should make on your journey to managerial excellence.