Managers have an enormous responsibility. Whether you are a manager yourself or are recruiting one, understanding the qualities necessary for success is important. These nine characteristics should be at the top of your list.
Managers get in trouble when they try too hard to be a friend to their subordinates. No matter how informal and collaborative the corporate culture is, there will be times when tough decisions must be made. If a manager is unwilling to make them, the performance of the group will decline drastically.
To make those tough decisions without destroying morale, managers must command respect. How is this accomplished? By being truthful, listening attentively, accepting constructive criticism, and having a strong work ethic, and by giving subordinates all the help and encouragement they need.
Managers must communicate clearly, concisely, and persuasively across a wide range of topics, from individual performance reviews to company-wide mission statements. Since communication can take the form of text, face-to-face meetings, formal presentations, phone calls, and ever more frequently, virtual meetings, managers must demonstrate strength in their communication skills to gather input, exchange ideas, get their point across and work through problems. From a recruiting standpoint, versatile communication skills are relatively easy to evaluate, but because doing so is time-consuming, many organizations don’t. This is a mistake that can be costly after the hire.
Although most organizations don’t want “yes men,” that is, people who do whatever they are told, no organization succeeds with managers who question every decision and complain about company policies and procedures. Effective managers know when to follow, when to push back, and perhaps most important, how to push back without creating tension and division. Many hiring processes focus entirely on the manager candidate’s character and capabilities in relation to the staff reporting to him or her. But how the candidate will interact with peers and superiors within the organization is just as important to consider.
In many respects, the job of a manager is to overcome challenges such as harmonizing working relationships, outmaneuvering the competition, removing obstacles to productivity and innovation, and many other day-to-day issues that tend to crop up in bunches. Managers must possess the insight to identify and understand problems, along with the ability to develop creative solutions. Moreover, managers must have the capacity to deal with several problems at once, as will often be the case.
Effective managers often derive more satisfaction from seeing their direct reports in the spotlight than having center stage themselves. This is because such managers are driven by a strong and sincere desire to see others cultivate their skills, advance in their careers, and achieve professional and personal success to the highest possible degree. Managers whose main concern is taking credit usually make their subordinates less rather than more effective.
Not wanting to be in the spotlight should not be confused with a lack of confidence. On the contrary, great managers possess great confidence. Without it, they would second guess every decision, driving themselves, their staff, and their superiors crazy. Without it, they would also take too much time to make decisions, blowing up timelines and creating bottlenecks throughout the organization. Because managers must be able to act quickly and confidently even under pressure, they must also be able to admit mistakes and revisit decisions. This ability to admit mistakes is itself a very important quality of confidence that many people overlook.
Just as good managers try to teach others how to succeed, they themselves are always eager to learn. A willingness to learn is extremely important to prevent departments from stagnating. Especially in businesses that are growing rapidly or changing direction, managers must acquire new skills and management techniques to produce results as conditions become more complex and demanding — and weak performance carries a greater cost.
Some have the notion that managers should sit in a big corner office with their feet on the desk, thinking dreamily about the big picture. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best managers are those who are familiar with every detail of their area of responsibility — and perhaps the fine details of work outside their scope. Only by doing the work can managers fully appreciate how the work is done, the difficulties encountered by those who do it, and how best to improve the way in which it is done. This hands-on knowledge is what enables managers to make improvements that not only work but also have the greatest impact. Ivory tower decision-making leads to false starts, wasted time, and ultimately, a disorganized and dysfunctional organization.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing company that specializes in SEO. With decades of marketing, sales, and management experience, Shorr has written for leading online publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur, and for the American Marketing Association.