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Here’s What It Takes to Be a Great Manager

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It’s not hard to describe a bad manager. We’ve all dealt with bosses that micromanage, criticize, and make it harder to get the job done.

But what qualities make someone a good manager? Whether it’s your first time with a direct report or you’ve spent years leading a team, there are a few traits you can develop to set your employees up for success. After all, good managers aren’t born; anyone can grow into it with the right intentions and a little practice.

“Ultimately, we’re measured and judged by the business, but the business doesn’t succeed without great staff and the staff doesn’t succeed without great supervision,” says Marc Kalan, assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School. “It’s not an intuitive skill set. You have to leverage skills and talents while recognizing deficiencies and assist your staff in overcoming them.”

A good manager is:

1. Self-Aware

Being a good leader starts with knowing your own shortcomings, says Sara Canaday, a leadership development expert and author. “First and foremost, a leader has to manage themselves,” she says. “If you don’t understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how your temperament, beliefs, and experiences impact your decisions, you’re missing the mark.” That level of self-analysis can be tough, but knowing where you have room to grow can help you improve how you work with your employees and set a good example for your team.

If you’re not sure where to start, request a 360-degree assessment if your company offers them. It’s an opportunity to get feedback from your peers and subordinates, as well as your superiors, to get a full picture of how you’re doing. Or ask a trusted colleague or former boss to weigh in. Rather than keeping it open-ended, ask pointed questions, Canaday says. If you think you’re good in a crisis, ask if the person would agree or if there’s anything you do that might not line up with the description. This will help you to get more specific and constructive feedback.

2. Empowering

As a manager, it might be tempting (and sometimes easier) to just do the work yourself, but that’s a temporary fix. Great bosses don’t control; they coach. This means providing feedback on a regular basis, developing your employees’ problem-solving skills, and setting broad goals while giving your team room to figure out how they’ll achieve them. “Managers don’t need to have all the answers,” Kalan says. “They need to set up appropriate challenges for those they supervise so they can try new things and learn.”

3. Communicative

Communicating is more than just sharing information with your employees. It can come in many forms, including your actions. Modern workers are looking for a manager who is authentic, and that means making an effort to engage your team. “Leaders need to share information, but also open a line of sight to their own thinking and be more transparent,” she says. And of course, with more flexible forms of work like telecommuting growing, effective and frequent communication is even more important to keep your team happy and connected.

4. Empathetic

Communication can only be effective if it’s well-received. “As a leader, you’ve got to have good interpersonal skills because that impacts how others are going to perceive you,” Canaday says. “You can have the best-laid plans, but if people don’t respond to you and they don’t trust you, they’re not going to support your vision.”

Put your team at ease by paying attention to how others react, allowing your team to do the talking in meetings, and giving feedback that is encouraging instead of critical. For example, when assessing your direct report’s performance, start from their goals and ask them if they think anything is holding them back. Then, ask if they’re open to hearing your perspective. “People say, ‘Yes I’m open,’ and it disarms them because you’re coming from a place of supporting their goals, but it opens you up to say what they’re doing is counterproductive, that is diluting their effectiveness,” Canaday says.

5. Nurturing

Teams aren’t just employees that all have the same function or output; they can also be a cohesive unit, a supportive group, and even a work family. Good bosses are the ones that foster that feeling, says Johanna Rothman, an author and management consultant.

Set a common goal for your group that everyone can feel like they’re contributing toward, and help employees feel supported so they can be themselves and do their best work. “It’s really important to figure out, ‘How do we create the best environment?’” Rothman says, “so that people can do their jobs and deliver great products.”

6. Strategic

You have to balance day-to-day operations with the big picture. Taking time to reflect can set your team up for success. “We need to be able to take strategic pauses to separate the signal from the noise, make connections we might not have made in the moment, and prioritize how to move forward,” Canaday says. She suggests assessing how things are going at regular intervals and thinking through the most efficient way of doing things. For instance, a new manager might spend time getting to know their team and learning about what they do before optimizing operations.

7. Present

Sometimes, just being there can make all the difference, says John Baldoni, an executive coach and author. This includes being physically present for the team, but it can also mean making sure they know they can come to you for anything. “‘Be there’ means whatever needs doing, you do it,” he says. “Whatever the team needs, you get it for them. You’re the advocate—you act on their behalf, find them the resources, promote them, provide criticism, coach, and just be present.”

infographic illustrating qualities of a good manager
Infographic design by Milkwhale