What Good Managers Do

A man, seen from neck to waist, wearing a suit

We’ve all had the experience of working for a bad manager. If we’re lucky, we’ve also had the experience of working for a good manager. Sometimes we don’t really know what separates the two; under a good manager, things seem easier, days go more smoothly, and we feel more engaged at work. But what do good managers do to get this kind of result?

My father was a manager of people later in his career, and as he grew into this role, he came to love it. The experience of managing people made him a more understanding and compassionate person. He read books on how to be a good manager. He started talking about emotional IQ and other subjects related to understanding and working with people.

His educational background was in engineering, mine is in business. It is from him that I got my love of management. I got my grounding in management theory from my undergrad and graduate education. This love and this knowledge have brought me to a particular understanding of how good managers work. My experience in the workforce has taught me how bad managers work. Unfortunately there are more bad managers out there than good ones. So how do you recognize a good manager? How do you practice good management?

Good Managers Lead From the Front

We’ve all experienced managers that lead from the back, giving orders without understanding what their team is facing. Truly good managers lead from the front; they understand the goals of their teams and the challenges they face. 

In order to do this effectively, managers must have a clear understanding of their team members’ jobs. All too often, we encounter people who are career managers, meaning that they specialize in management and enter firms and industries as managers without experience in the field that their teams are working in. These managers often do not put in the effort to understand the work that their teams have to do.

This results in frustration on the parts of team members, which reduces engagement with their work. This lack of engagement causes frustration on the part of the manager. Everyone is now having less fun, is less fulfilled, less engaged, and productivity suffers.

To lead from the front, aim for roles managing teams in industries you’ve worked in before. Failing that, engage with and listen to your team members. Understand the shape of their work and the obstacles to performance. Then work toward removing or mitigating those obstacles.

Good Managers Communicate Clearly

If you want a task done a certain way and you don’t communicate that effectively, the problems with the end product are at least partially your fault.

Your team cannot meet your expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are. 

Communicating clearly is more complicated than it sounds on the surface. Communication is not just conveying information, it’s also receiving information. Even if you master one method of communication, different people communicate better in some ways than others.

Here are some general tips for communicating well:

  • Actively Listen: Do not perform other work while engaging in communication. Pay attention. Offer cues that indicate that you are listening, including verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Be Curious: approach communication with an attitude of curiosity. Virtually every communication offers an opportunity to learn. Curiosity will help you catch subtle cues that help you understand the other person and communicate with them more effectively.
  • Manage Your Emotions: many types of communication that we engage in in the workplace can be emotionally volatile. We can’t always predict or control the feelings that come up in a conversation, but we can manage how we express them. Managing your emotions will help you be a better listener and speaker.
  • Choose The Right Method: The best method for communication depends on both the purpose of the communication, and the person that you’re communicating with. Some people need complicated communications in writing. Some people are better able to absorb information through in-person conversation. Some communications need a paper trail. Understanding what works best is vital, and it’s a skill that often must be learned through experience.

Good Managers Support Their Team

There’s a widespread misconception that employees work for their managers, and I think this is a leftover from the days of Scientific Management Theory. The fact is, a manager’s job is to facilitate their team completing the work that they’re performing. In this sense, a manager works for their team.

The manager’s job is to help their team do the best work that they can do. Yes, this involves giving work assignments and instructions, but it also involves creating a work environment that is as low stress as possible, safe, and enjoyable.

It also involves motivating team members; striking the right balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and manipulating working conditions to activate the three basic components of motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Good managers are also willing and able to take the time to coach and guide team members through technical aspects of their work, to listen to their team members, and to provide accommodations as needed.

Good Managers Tailor Their Approach

Each member of a team is an individual. Every single one is different. They have different communication styles, different motivators, and different learning styles. A good manager is able to recognize these differences and adapt their approach to best support each individual. This may involve a lot of trial and error, but it’s vital to leading and supporting a team effectively.

Good managers pay attention to the way people communicate, the areas in which people are struggling, the way they work.

This is a break from the Theory of Scientific Management, which supposes that all workers are more or less replaceable cogs in a machine, and that one single approach is going to work for everyone. Many managers still believe this is the case, and their teams and their work suffer as a result.

Managing effectively is a difficult job, and it involves a lot of work. You will never enter your first management position as a great manager; these skills require practical experience to learn. An academic background is absolutely useful, but some of it must be learned by doing. 

The management of people is also rewarding work. It’s worth taking the time to learn, practice, and develop those skills. Your team and your company will thank you.

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