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February 27, 2018

7 Characteristics of a Great Manager

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As I’ve outlined elsewhere, managers drive results and deliver outcomes through the skillsets of others. That may sound manipulative, but the best managers are coaches, not manipulators.

Accordingly, managing is a bit of a dance. I’ve been studying, thinking about, talking about and writing about managing for a few decades now. I’ve learned from many great thinkers (Peter Drucker is a favorite), but I’ve learned mostly through the thousands of leaders I’ve worked with. These leaders have taught me so much over the years. Here are seven of the most important takeaways I’ve learned on how to be a great manager:

  1. Pick great people.

As Larry Bossidy said, “At the end of the day, you bet on people, not strategies.” Therefore, it’s crucial to start with good people, if at all possible. A bad hire will get you stuck, like quicksand.

When choosing a hire, my grid is hungry, smart and humble, if possible.

  • Hungry people have innate work ethic. I don’t have to jazz them up every morning. They drag themselves out of bed and work hard even when the task of the day isn’t their favorite.
  • Smart people have a combination of mental firepower and street smarts. They don’t need to be taught the same thing over and over again. And they can think for themselves and problem solve.
  • Humble people take input well. They have the posture of receptivity and have examples of when others have spoken into their lives and changed their thinking on a topic.
  1. Give clear work assignments and expectations.

Often, we think that when we hire capable people (#1 above), we don’t have to give them guidance, but that’s simply not true. Great managers instead explain the nuances of “how we do things here.” The more clarity you provide as a manager, the more likely everyone will be successful. And the more presumptive you are of others, the bigger chance you will fail.

How long should a project take? What kind of urgency and effort does it require? What kind of communication do you want along the way? What deliverables and outputs do you want?

  1. Get and give formal feedback.

There are two extremes in the feedback world. Option one is hands-off management. These managers are totally distant. Option two is death by meetings. These managers are always measuring and always talking about how to improve things. Turns out they talk about it so much, they never actually do it. Which option better describes your management style?

When you do provide feedback, don’t just squeeze it into the cracks. Focus on it. Prepare your thoughts beforehand. Ask questions and listen. Get it on record. And above all, refer back to it the next time to show growth. There’s not much more that encourages employees like, “I asked you to grow in this area, and you nailed it. Well done.”

  1. Coach them up.

I wrote a blog post called “A Kick in the Pants or a Pat on the Back?”. As a manager, you’ve got to know your reports and the situation well enough to be able to know what is needed … and when. You’ve got to be able to know when to say to an employee, “You can do this!” and when to say, “Can you do this?”

Some managers are just better at encouraging people, and some are, shall we say, less encouraging.  Some employees respond better to one style than another. Great managers have both tools on their tool belt.

  1. Let them get some public love.

How much satisfaction do you get when someone you’ve trained gets praised? And I don’t mean praised by you but by someone else who doesn’t even recognize you had a role. This tip is usually the hardest one for managers to follow because it tests their ego. We all have an ego, of course, but the best managers are able to put their ego on the shelf when watching someone they’ve trained get praised by someone else.

It’s (usually) easy with our kids. No parent stands up at his daughter’s piano recital and shouts, “I taught her that! And I could do it even better than she can!” We delight to see our kids praised. Do we delight to see our employees praised?

  1. Macro-manage.

After coaching leaders for over thirty years, I’m convinced that people always need managing. I’m equally convinced that the more talented someone is, the less he or she wants micro-managing. Micro-managers kill the spirit of the employee because they declare not only what to do but how to do it, and then they want to be involved in the “how” every step along the way. Micro-managers are helicopter parents at work.

Macro-managers, on the other hand, give a ton of clarity on the “what” to do. What goal are we trying to reach? What problem are we trying to solve? They also throw in a dash of the “why.” Why does what we’re doing matter? But they push the “how” downstream.

  1. Give them bigger tasks.

Assuming your employee has done a good job, reward him with bigger tasks—more important tasks, more strategic tasks, tasks with more dollars and more years attached to the outcomes, more responsibilities, more direct reports, and sometimes simply more tasks.

If you did a good job at #1, you hired a hungry person, and if you hired a hungry person, you don’t want him or her to get full. Nor do you want a hustling person to get lazy. Put more in front of them and watch them rise to the challenge.

Conclusion
Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said, “People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.” Think about it.

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