Attributes of Good Managers: Not Always What You Think
Numerous articles describe the attributes and skills of good managers. For example, many cite leadership, communication, and planning skills. Some cite listening skills, self-confidence and honesty. Others cite self-motivation, reliability, and the ability to give constructive feedback. And let’s not forget a positive attitude, empathy, and decision-making skills. Plus, of course, a sense of humor.
What a tall order! Still, these lists serve as a useful guide to improving as a manager. But often, when we describe someone as a good manager, we’re reacting to just a few things about the person’s style or behavior that impress us. As a result, people might differ in their views of a particular manager, depending on their perception of or experience with that manager.
For example, when I was promoted into management, my manager was a man with a widespread negative reputation. This man, Mr. MakeWork, excelled at creating busywork for other people, including time-wasting assignments for his direct reports that diverted attention from important priorities. He wrote long, boring, unnecessary memos that his direct reports had to read, digest, and act on. He came to work before six a.m. and was still there at five p.m., diligently doing what didn’t need to be done.
When people learned of my promotion—and whom I’d be reporting to—they didn’t know whether to congratulate me or express condolences. Knowing Mr. MakeWork’s reputation, I was apprehensive. But, as a new manager, I needed his guidance, and I was in for a happy surprise. Whenever I popped into his office with a question or problem, he stopped what he was doing and gave me his full attention. We’d spend as much as forty-five minutes in discussion, and I’d leave feeling more confident and with a better sense of how to address the matter.
As to his writing mania, I started matching his memos to his direct reports with my own memos to him, knowing he’d give them close attention. A cynic might say I did this so he’d have less time to devise his own distractions—and that cynic wouldn’t be entirely wrong! Still, my write-ups of situations I had handled gave him insight into my accomplishments that he might not have had otherwise. Our shared appreciation for written communication and my willingness to seek his advice helped us see eye to eye. While his other direct reports couldn’t stand him, I became a better manager as a result of his tutelage.
Mr. MakeWork lacked many of the attributes cited as evidence of a good manager. But at that point in my career, he was just what I needed. For me, he was a good manager.