Good management is one of the most important elements of an organization in today’s business world. That’s hardly a daring or controversial statement; many people have learned the hard way that poor managers, even those with the best of intentions, can cause serious problems for a company. But what traits make up a truly first-rate manager? The question is not necessarily easy to answer – bad management tends to generate a spectrum of obviously negative effects, but positive qualities can be more difficult to pinpoint. Yet the personal qualities and behaviors of an excellent manager are not really a big secret, and it is possible for individuals to develop them. Let’s take a look at the qualities that great managers should possess, with the goal of educating those who are responsible for hiring managerial staff.
Many companies tend to resemble elaborate castles where those in one wing aren’t really sure what’s happening in all the others. In these environments, employees receive orders based on obscure rationale that no one explains—things are simply expected to happen. One big problem with this is that it tends to promote gossipy, mistrustful work environments. Edicts passed down from on high like this will feel arbitrary, making employees feel like puppets rather than genuine participants in the company culture. A really world-class manager will make clear the reasons for his or her actions and requests. Sharing key information in this manner will help foster a cooperative atmosphere. This includes providing employee feedback in a clear fashion—employees should not be told that their performance is inadequate; they should also be provided with a game plan of sorts that will help them boost their performance. Clarity and openness is fundamental.
We’re not just talking about keeping files in their proper place. In any company that has more than a handful of employees, things can get confusing if certain parameters are set in place: who can employees report to, who takes orders from whom, what are the key tasks that specific personnel are expected to perform, and so on. Preferably, all this is set down in writing so employees have an unambiguous policy that they can refer to when in doubt. The manager should be responsible for creating and enforcing these organizational boundaries—this will allow them to guide employees properly, keeping them “on track” without imposing unreasonable demands on them.
Similarly, the manager’s thorough knowledge of the current system will allow them to pinpoint opportunities to enhance employee productivity; for example, a short-term emergency assignment can be handed off to the employee or department best suited to deal with it.
There’s no doubt that we live in a business world increasingly dominated by technology. From text messages to elaborate IT server rooms, technology underpins almost every task found in the corporate sector. What’s more, technology continues to evolve—what was state-of-the-art equipment five years ago seems hopelessly quaint today. Therefore, it’s important for managers to maintain a firm grasp of technology and its relationship to everyday business functions.
That doesn’t mean that managers must be expert coders or be able to repair broken laptops; it just means that they should have a solid overview of the current technological landscape. What instant messaging tools are currently available, what software packages are best for certain departments—these are just a few topics with which managers should be familiar. The manager will probably not be the company’s resident IT expert, but he or she should be able to communicate reasonably well with that person. By keeping abreast of the rapidly changing tech world, a manager will be able to maintain a cutting-edge work environment.
Flexibility and Creativity
Few employees enjoy working for a company that insists on staying “in a rut.” A really great manager has ideas for keeping the company fresh and vibrant. Keep in mind that creativity, in a managerial context, doesn’t have to be about inventing revolutionary, unprecedented approaches to doing business. It’s more about remaining receptive to new ways of doing things—not pinballing from one business fad to another in a desperate attempt to see what “sticks,” but being willing to abandon old approaches when needed. A flexible manager can act quickly to prevent moribund company traditions from impeding the growth that the organization requires to remain viable in today’s highly competitive business world.
Solidarity with Personnel
Great managers aren’t dictators. Few things are more demoralizing to employees than a distant, remote leader who hands out impersonal directives from behind closed doors, or one who strives to keep them in line with stern intimidation. A great manager is one who, in a sense, leads the team from within. The manager provides clear guidance to the group without keeping a distance from its members. He or she is down in the trenches with everyone else, sharing in the pains and rewards of the working world.
If you’re a fan of auto racing, you probably know all about pace cars, which are vehicles that lead the contestants around the track for a few laps prior to the start of the race. That’s what a great manager does—sets the pace for others to follow. But a manager doesn’t do this by literally leading people around in the same way a pace car does; they do it by setting an appropriate tone. A manager should go out of their way to create a welcoming environment for their employees. It’s not about mindless cheerleading—gushing insincerity can be spotted a mile away—but rather, making personnel feel valued and cherished. This shouldn’t be viewed as an unreasonable demand on any manager; after all, employees do perform valuable functions without which the company would not survive. There’s a tendency for “good vibes” (and bad ones) to trickle down the company hierarchy.
Great managers can pick up on the prevailing mood among personnel—specific individuals, as well as the group as a whole. Is morale down? Does a particular employee feel overworked and undervalued? A first-rate manager can detect these things without needing to be explicitly told. The manager should also be able to shift their leadership style in accordance with the circumstances. In other words, there’s a time to be serious, and a time to be relatively relaxed; great leadership includes knowing the difference between the two.