Eight qualities of a good manager

A manager can make or break an employee’s experience, and successful ones can boost employee engagement

WeWork Samseong Station II in Seoul. Photographs by WeWork

When 58 percent of people trust a stranger more than they trust their manager, there’s certainly room for improvement in the workplace. We all know that people make the job, but more than anything, a manager can make or break the employee experience. In fact, the Harvard Business Review, in partnership with Facebook, found that the number-one reason employees quit was that they felt underused and stagnant in their careers. That means that a manager’s greatest responsibility is to give their employees opportunities to grow.

In enterprise and midlevel companies, successful managers double employee engagement, which results, according to Gallup polls, in an average 147 percent increase in earnings per share. The connection to the bottom line is clear, but defining the qualities of a good manager is a bit more complicated.

What makes a good manager?

There are dozens of factors that promote effective leadership, but some characteristics—clear communication and work-life balance, for example—set great managers apart from good ones. Here are eight common qualities effective leaders share. When put together, these factors contribute to the team’s trust in management and its performance overall.

1. Brings ample experience and pertinent knowledge 

First and foremost, you can’t manage what you don’t know. The movies about babysitters becoming editors-in-chief are fun, but they don’t reflect reality.

Experience is one way to gain the knowledge needed to be a great manager, but a decades-long resume in your field isn’t the only solution: A record of skillfully managing stellar and difficult employees shows you have solid experience. Successfully navigating a team through a stressful situation or era is also evidence that someone has the knowledge needed to be a strong manager.

2. Communicates clearly and candidly

This quality of a good manager is so important, you could (almost) forget everything else. Clear, honest communication is key in building trust in management and increasing team engagement.

Team-wide and individual goals are part of any good manager’s aims, but they don’t matter unless they’re clearly communicated to employees. As an employee, knowing what’s expected and doing your best to get there is half the battle.

3. Stays connected and always listens 

Especially when it comes to managing big teams across satellite offices, a good manager will always be there—on the phone, over chat, or in person. That can sound like a good manager is always on, but that isn’t necessary (another quality of a good manager, time management, is the flip side of this coin).  Scheduling regular one-on-ones is just as important as answering ad-hoc questions. 

A manager who listens well and creates a space for questions in one-on-ones is less likely to encounter a barrage of questions later, and employees who feel heard are happier and more productive. Holding regular office hours, where anyone can ask questions in person, over the phone, or through videoconferencing, is another effective way to stay connected across time zones and build time to listen. 

4. Delegates tasks and manages time effectively

Strategically planning listening sessions is just one way a good manager carefully balances time. Delegating is also a strength of a great manager and a crucial part of managing time well. Rather than just assigning a task and asking an employee to do it for you, empowering an employee to complete work for the team, or for themselves, is a fantastic management skill. 

In many ways, a delegator is the opposite of a micromanager. A sixth sense for when to intervene in a project or give encouragement is the difference between a collaborator and a great manager, and makes everyone’s job easier. 

5. Emphasizes team-building, support, and career development

Speaking of saving time, learning to recognize the strengths of employees and therefore avoid micromanagement is a great example of trust building even more trust. When employees are empowered to have ownership of their work, they feel confident and supported in getting that work done. 

Empowering employees is about understanding their strengths, but it’s also about building an atmosphere where career development and team-building is celebrated. 

6. Displays reliability to promote a stable work environment

A mercurial boss is a nightmare; we’ve all had one. Good managers create stability. They reliably follow through on their promises, and when changes come from above, they explain why. A great manager can’t just be there when the going is good—they must be a leader when the going gets tough, too.

7. Values flexibility and work-life balance

It might seem like the opposite of reliability, but flexibility—in terms of agility in the face of rapidly changing business demands and offering flexible working situations to your employees—is one quality of an effective manager. Being open to new ideas and approaches keeps work fresh for everyone, and a manager who weathers changes with a positive, flexible attitude is much easier to work for. 

More than this, a leader who values—and even models—work-life balance is more likely to instill confidence and win trust from their team. When employees feel there’s space for other projects and hobbies in their lives, their level of engagement at the office also increases and their risk of burnout is reduced.

8. Demonstrates grace and assurance—especially under pressure 

Change happens, and so does conflict. The ability to answer questions, provide support, and be a beacon of stability is important on easy days, but it’s even more important during inevitable times of upheaval. Answering questions during a crisis with grace and confidence is what makes the difference. 

There are countless characteristics of a good manager, but these eight elements are a solid start. Anyone who already has, or aims to improve on these qualities, is in a wonderful position to level up from a good manager to a great one.

How to hire a good manager

Whether you’re looking to hire from the outside or promote someone within the company, finding the right person to manage a team can feel daunting. Here are four strategies to consider next time you need to hire a new manager.

Hire and promote from within

There’s an advantage to promoting from within. You know the employee’s track record at the company, how well they work with others, and their impact on company culture. Plus, you can train rising stars to adapt a management style that fits the company. This practice creates a positive work environment and creates opportunities for employees, which helps with attracting and retaining talent. Investing in talent is always a smart move. 

Look for referrals

Promoting from within is a long-term strategy, but what if you need someone fast and no current employees fit the role? When it comes to outside hires, one of the best strategies for finding promising applicants is to ask for referrals from employees and your network. This is good advice for hiring anyone, but especially managers. Getting the inside scoop on what a person is like to work with can be incredibly valuable. 

Focus on people skills

Don’t just look for managers who understand the job, look for those who understand people. This can be tricky to identify, especially in an interview. Pay attention to how they talk about past coworkers and subordinates. Do they discuss these people with compassion and empathy? Look for individuals who genuinely care about other people’s successes and who understand the challenges they face. With the many stresses that employees face today, empathy is more important than ever

Build an enticing company culture

A strong company culture will attract quality talent. It’s difficult to hire a good manager if no one wants to work for you. Companies with good reputations are often flooded with hundreds of quality applicants for every open position. Invest in talent with competitive pay, attractive benefits, and attainable growth opportunities. Weed out toxic managers and develop a strong set of company values that will inspire your workforce. Build a company people want to work for and good managers will be lining up at your door.

This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, and has been updated throughout by the editors.

For more insight into team management, check out Ideas by We.

Rachel Miller is a writer based in New York. She specializes in both editorial and UX copy, and her work has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, the Guardian, the Awl, and more.

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