August 10, 2021

What Makes a Good Manager? Key Qualities, Skills and Habits

Melissa Malec

Having a bad manager is one of the top causes of workplace stress, according to research by Comparably.

But what makes a good manager? 

We believe that a good manager works to achieve the best results for each employee, their team, and the organisation as a whole.

In this article, we explain three key approaches to leadership and outline what we think is the best management style for each.

We then describe the most important qualities, abilities, and habits that growth-minded managers can cultivate in their team.  

Leadership Approaches and Styles

There are three broad approaches to leadership: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. Each of these approaches encompasses a number of different management styles. Here’s a short description of what we think is the best style for each approach. 

Autocratic and Persuasive

In the autocratic approach to management, the manager controls as many decisions as they can, taking on little to no input from other team members. 

While this approach to leadership frees people from the responsibility of decision-making, it can cause disengagement when people are asked to take actions they disagree with. It also works against creativity and innovation by limiting which ideas are considered.

Under certain circumstances it can make sense to take an autocratic approach to management—for example, if the manager doesn’t have the leeway to take other suggestions on board.

When an autocratic management approach is necessary, the persuasive leadership style helps managers to stay in touch with their people’s perspectives.

Persuasive leadership works to win people’s support for team goals and operating procedures. Persuasive managers consider their people’s concerns and make an effort to explain management’s rationale in a way that gets their people on board.

Democratic and Participative

Often framed as the opposite of the autocratic approach, the democratic approach to management invites team members to participate in decision-making.  

Democratic managers give each employee a say in how they do their work and encourage creativity by welcoming their ideas. However, it can take getting used to if people don’t have the confidence to voice and test out their own ideas.

 

Within this approach, the participative style of management invites people to participate in making decisions about team goals and operating procedures. This can help people feel more engaged with their work, as they have more choice over what they do and how they do it.

Laissez-faire and Visionary

The laissez-faire approach to management sees managers play a much more hands-off role, letting people make their own decisions as much as possible and leaving them to mostly lead themselves. 

This approach helps people grow by challenging them to take personal responsibility for their achievements, motivation, and slip-ups. However, not everyone wants the responsibility that comes with this level of autonomy. 

Within this approach, the visionary style of leadership works to inspire people with a fantastic vision for what the team could accomplish, and then entrusts each employee to do their part in helping to realise this dream.

Think, for example, of a coach getting their team fired up with an emotive locker-room speech, while trusting the team to make the best decisions once they’re fired up. 

What Qualities Does a Good Manager Have? 

There are many different attributes good managers can have, which come more easily to some people than others, based on past experience and existing skills. Here are three great managerial characteristics that anyone can build through attention and practice:

Approachability

People need to feel psychologically safe approaching their manager to ask for help and for feedback on their performance. They need to know that they can rely on their manager to consider their concerns, give supportive feedback, and step up to help them when they need it. 

Being approachable is what makes a good manager. This quality comes more easily to some than to others, but one action any manager can take to be more approachable is to have an open-door policy. 

This doesn’t mean physically keeping your door open at all times. It just means making yourself available daily to provide feedback or offer help with a problem if anyone needs it. 

Accountability

Being accountable for one's performance is another quality that makes a good manager. People should be able to trust their managers in order to feel safe working with them.

To build your people’s trust in your word, practice being as transparent with them as possible and avoid making promises you can’t keep. 

You can show accountability for your performance by stepping up and admitting when you have made an error and doing whatever you can to repair any damage done.

Open-Mindedness

A great manager is open to considering new ideas and trying new things to foster innovation and improve how their team operates.

Being open-minded also helps a good manager consider a wider range of perspectives. This better equips them to understand all of their team members and consider their views equally, instead of showing favouritism for the team members with whom they can easily empathise and agree.

You can develop a more open mind through learning. For example, reading books on a variety of topics written by people with different backgrounds can expose you to a greater diversity of thought and help you get more comfortable exploring ideas that are different from your own.

What Skills Does a Good Manager Have? 

A good manager draws on a wide variety of abilities, but here are the three that we think are particularly important for managers to cultivate:

Communication

Clearly communicating goals, priorities, and practicalities with employees is what makes a good manager.

To make your and your employees' communications more effective, work towards a culture of radical candor so that you can all communicate honestly enough for your feedback to be helpful and actionable, but compassionately enough not to cause unnecessary hurt to anyone in the process.

Remember that communication isn’t a one-way street: it involves inviting and listening to your employees' feedback on your management performance too.

Coaching

One of the key roles that a good manager fulfils is that of a work performance coach to their employees. Helping people gain confidence in their work, further develop their skill sets, tackle their weaknesses head-on, and lean into new challenges is a big part of what makes a good manager.

Managing people well involves giving feedback that will tell people what they need to improve and guiding them on ways to do it, without emotionally breaking them down or damaging their confidence. Radical candor is helpful here too!

You can also engage with learning resources on teaching and coaching adults to build your coaching capabilities.

Emotional Resilience

The best managers are those who are there to help their employees weather any storm by being present and responsive during a crisis. 

Great leaders are able to keep a cool head and take a step back from their emotional response, in order to think analytically and spring into action during an emergency.

Emotional resilience is a complex skill, but a good leader can build it by engaging with the right personal development and psychology resources.  

What Does a Good Manager Do?

Good managers need to fulfil a great many responsibilities—the specifics of which will vary depending on the manager.

However, the responsibilities of an effective manager can broadly be summarised under three main goals: 

Serve the Team

Good managers devote themselves to the wellbeing of their team.

A big part of serving your team can be found in basic communications tasks like making sure that everyone on your team knows what they need to do and how to do it. 

To this end, good managers set goals that are clear, measurable, and achievable—the SMART framework is a helpful guide to follow. 

Good managers also delegate tasks and demarcate workloads clearly and fairly, having faith in each team member to do their fair share.

Another part of serving your team is providing them with the resources they need to do their best work and develop their skill sets—whether this is learning materials or practical tools related to their day-to-day tasks.

Finally, a good manager should serve their team by having their back, making sure that they’re being treated fairly, and being willing to stand up to their own managers for their team if need be.

Empower Your People

An important purpose good managers serve is to empower their people to do their best work and progress in their careers. 

The first step to empowering your people is taking an interest in them. Take the time to get to know each of your people: what their work goals are, what parts of their work they most enjoy, and what challenges they face. 

This will help your people develop by allowing them to achieve their specific goals, focus on the parts of their work that they enjoy the most, and problem-solve to face their unique challenges. 

Good managers also provide feedback that inspires the confidence people need to take big steps forward and face their challenges head-on. 

You can also empower your people in more practical ways by helping them build career development plans and making sure that they have the workplace learning and development resources they need. 

Treat People Equitably

Finally, a manager is only as good as their team, and a good team is one that welcomes and supports all of its members. 

Great managers embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their interactions with employees and their policy-making. 

To ensure you’re treating your people fairly, we recommend engaging with learning resources about DEI and unconscious bias. 

Conclusion

There are many ways to be a good manager, covering a wide range of different management styles, attributes, management skills, and everyday habits. 

Some of our favourite management styles include:

  • Persuasive management, which works to convince people of the value of their work and the rationality behind what they are doing.
  • Participative management, which invites each employee to contribute their viewpoint and make suggestions for how the team can achieve its goals, and considers all of this input in decision-making.
  • Visionary management, which inspires people with an engaging vision of what they could achieve, and then steps back and trusts people to get on with their work. 

Key characteristics great managers work to cultivate include:

  • Being approachable
  • Being accountable for their actions and mistakes
  • Being open to new ideas 

Key capabilities good managers can always stand to improve include:

  • Communication
  • Coaching
  • Emotional Resilience 

Key responsibilities good managers should fulfil include:

  • Serving the team
  • Empowering the team
  • Treating people equitably

Being a good manager is certainly no mean feat, but the good news is that managers can always improve on their existing management abilities and build new skills through training and development—just keep reading our blog to learn more 😉

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