Management isn't one size fits all.
As anyone who's ever had a bad manager can tell you: management quality makes a huge difference in the workplace. In fact, problems with management are often cited as the No. 1 reason that people quit jobs. Conversely, even jobs that would conventionally be considered too stressful, gross, or difficult seem a lot more manageable (pun intended) when they're being, well, correctly managed.
So, what makes a good manager? That's not an easy question to answer. Different industries can have vastly different expectations of an effective managerial presence looks like. Additionally, different industries can attract vastly different personality types. It goes to reason that a manager running an artisanal coffee shop is going to be corraling a very different group of professionals than the manager of an auto dealership.
After getting input from several performance excellence organizations, we found that there are several traits that are considered the hallmark of a good manager—regardless of industry.
Good Managers Listen
This one seems like a no-brainer, but while doing research for this article, we found that a lack of listening is a common complaint about management across almost every industry. There are plenty of managers out there who assume that their higher status means that they're simply above the workers underneath them, and therefore, don't need to care too much about their opinions. That's incorrect.
Listening to worker inputs is a vital skill for any manager. If people are going to be directly reporting to you, then you might as well make sure that their reporting does something. Even if they're new or inexperienced, workers tend to have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the day-to-day, and this also means that they're able to pick up on problems before they become clear to management.
Effective managers listen when employees come to them with concerns, suggestions, or other observations. Beyond staying up-to-date with whatever is going on, listening to employees shows them that you respect their input. Ensuring that employees feel valued is something that will pop up again on this list, and for a good reason: it's one of the main factors in employee performance and turnover.
Good Managers Delegate
Two things seem to be universally true in the professional world:
- Everyone has had a manager who aggressively micro-managed them.
- Nobody enjoys working with a manager who aggressively micro-manages them.
While trouble delegating is often considered to be a problem of the newly-promoted, it's a common complaint across all skill levels and all industries. There is no shortage of managers who believe that they were promoted because they do their job well, and that means that they need to do their job much more. This mentality can end up in a workplace where the manager considers themselves the main point-of-contact for every single task, slowing productivity to a halt and taking employee morale with it.
Effective managers are there to, well, manage. Their interests are focused on the organization's larger goals, and they trust the day-to-day work to the people in charge of getting it done. While it can often be tempting for managers to start flexing all over their departments, it's worth remembering that other employees are there because they have jobs to do too. Managers who trust employees to get their work done—and build communication structures to reinforce that trust—see much better results than ones who need their fingerprints on every single thing.
This all brings to mind a rather salient quote: "Bad managers make you work while good managers let you work."
Good Managers Mentor
Unless one of your co-workers is Benjamin Button, everyone will be growing at their job. Growing older is mandatory, but every other part of personal growth is optional. Effective managers recognize the workplace as a valuable place to develop skills and grow expertise. Being a successful manager means getting a sense of all of the little teachable moments that happen in the day-to-day and capitalizing on them with how work is assigned.
Additionally, simply being available to answer employee questions goes a long way towards maintaining morale. Remember when we said that feeling valued is one of the most important things in retaining talent? Being a mentorship resource can help that significantly. Employees who feel like they can ask management for help are going to be a lot more productive and will spend more time addressing problems instead of just avoiding them.
Good Managers Play Chess
No, you don't have to get good at the actual game of chess to be a manager.
Instead, this refers to the act of seeing all of your employees as unique, individually skilled pieces. Just like the game of chess, a workplace is a collection of several completely different roles and skillsets. Effective management means finding a way to use them all for their individual skills, instead of assuming that everybody fits a single role.
Although this is considered to be one of the most important skills for long-term success as a manager, there aren't any shortcuts. There isn't any substitute for actually taking the time to learn about your team, understand their needs, and find them positions that can hone their skills. That said, you should always be trying to do those things.
So, when you're confronted by a difficult problem, think of your staff as pieces on a chessboard. No matter how dedicated, a knight isn't going to move the same way that a bishop does. Thinking about your group's unique skills, and the unique places in which you can employ them, goes a long way towards making employees feel like they're a part of something larger.
There's a common saying in the business world, "Employees don't quit jobs, they quit managers." A manager can often be the face of a job for the people under them, and it's in everyone's best interests to make that face a nice one.