The 5 Qualities Needed to Be a Really Great Manager

John Hollon Coaching, Communication, Culture, Employee Development, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Learning and Development, Managing People, Performance, Retention, Talent Management, Training and Development, Workforce Management Articles

I’ve had a lot of jobs so I’ve worked for a lot of different managers — the good, the bad, and the really ugly.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of them, it’s this: it’s rare when you find one that you would really want to work for again.

In fact, when I try to count the good managers I’ve known, I find that I can count them on the fingers of one hand.

In other words, really great managers are really hard to find.

How bad managers destroy engagement

I was thinking about that this week after coming across an old (2014) HBR blog post titled, appropriately enough, Why Good Managers Are So Rare. A couple of things from it jumped out at me.

One is this very scary paragraph (scary, that is, if you’re an employer):

“Managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimates. This variation is in turn responsible for severely low worldwide employee engagement. Gallup reported in two large-scale studies in 2012 that only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and a staggeringly low 13 percent worldwide are engaged. Worse, over the past 12 years these low numbers have barely budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees worldwide are failing to develop and contribute at work.”

These Gallup numbers aren’t new, but they jump out at you in this context because they clearly show that despite the long and costly efforts to improve employee engagement, most organizations haven’t seen much positive change because the process seems to break down at the managerial level.

5 traits of a great manager

But, the article also noted that the engagement problem has a pretty straight-forward solution:

“The root of performance variability lies within human nature itself. Teams are composed of individuals with diverging needs related to morale, motivation, and clarity — all of which lead to varying degrees of performance. Nothing less than great managers can maximize them. But first, companies have to find those great managers.”

So, what does it take to be a great manager? The HBR article lists these five (5) traits, identified by Gallup, of great managers:

  1. They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.
  2. They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  3. They create a culture of clear accountability.
  4. They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  5. They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.

They make you feel good about coming to work

I would add a few more traits to this list gleaned from the great managers I have had the pleasure to have worked for:

  • They are supportive and trusting, especially during times of stress or challenging situations;
  • They are personable and caring about employees as individuals with unique lives and circumstances;
  • They listen before acting, and they go overboard to push specific decision-making back to you whenever possible.
  • They are genuinely friendly and offer themselves up as a close adviser and someone you can easily bounce problems or issues off of.

Most of all, I’ve found that great managers make you feel good about coming to work — every, single day. They help you to keep your energy is focused on bettering the business rather than trying to figure out how to navigate the whims and shortcomings of the person you report to.

“Nothing fixes the wrong pick”

Why Good Managers Are So Rare is something you should read if you really care about great management and better leveraging your workforce that way. And just so you don’t think the article is all negative about the state of management today, it adds this:

“The good news is that sufficient management talent exists in every company – it’s often hiding in plain sight. Leaders should maximize this potential by choosing the right person for the next management role using predictive analytics to guide their identification of talent.

For too long, companies have wasted time, energy, and resources hiring the wrong managers and then attempting to train them to be who they’re not. Nothing fixes the wrong pick.”

I believe we’re living in a time of some really terrible management, but this is also true — good management IS often hiding in plain sight. The trick is finding, developing it, and then giving that newly-found manager the chance to show you what they can do.

It’s not easy, and there is no guarantee of success, but as the HBR article makes perfectly clear — “nothing fixes the wrong pick.” THAT’S why you need to spend more time and energy making absolutely sure you’re choosing the right one.

It’s not easy, but isn’t making the right pick what it’s all about?