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What Makes a Great Manager: Qualities & Traits

Kristen Ruttgaizer

May 27, 2019 · 7 min read

Honesty, communication skills, and a clear vision for the company/team are just a few qualities of a good manager. What makes a great manager, however, is the ability to use those qualities to cultivate a workplace and culture where people are engaged and empowered to do their best work. In today’s digital workplace environment, leaders need to focus on the employee experience more than ever.

Google spent 10 years studying what makes a great boss and then started training all managers to develop those traits and behaviors. It has been a successful strategy. And while training is a critical piece of the puzzle, leaders also need to adopt digital tools and processes to improve the way people communicate, collaborate, and share knowledge – because all these things are critical to the wider organization.

Top qualities of a great manager

We have identified some of the most important qualities of successful managers, along with some actions they can take to create a people-powered workplace culture.

They are skilled communicators

Great managers recognize that communication is a two-way street – usually, that means listening more than talking. Some of the best manager qualities are openness and an expression of genuine interest in their team’s thoughts and opinions. Great managers have a good understanding of the organization’s vision and they not only share it with the team, but ensure everyone understands how their objectives will contribute to delivering on this vision.

They are team-builders

While bad managers are difficult to deal with and opt for “divide and conquer” tactics, great ones rely on effective team building. This starts with recognizing and developing the strengths of the individuals that make up the team. Successful managers understand that building a great team starts with an effective and positive employee onboarding process. Digital workplace solutions for onboarding and HR are designed to engage new hires from day one.

They encourage and empower

Managing by fear is a sure-fire way to fail as a leader. Ever reported to a boss who used their position to intimidate rather than empower their team? It’s demotivating, disrespectful, and ultimately benefits nobody. Good managers are known to instill self-motivation in others by creating a work environment that’s positive and supportive.

Great managers give kudos where they are due by acknowledging and rewarding the employees going above and beyond. Employee recognition tools make it easy for managers to motivate their people and let them know they are valued.

They are transparent

Honesty and integrity are essential characteristics of a great manager. True leaders understand the importance of being transparent because they have nothing to hide, and their honesty creates a culture of trust that benefits everyone. Given that 1 in 3 employees do not trust their employers, we can all agree that transparency should be a tool in any manager’s arsenal.

They do not micromanage

Great managers lead by example, not by creating to-do lists. They recognize that empowering people means trusting them to get the job done, while micromanagement actually has a negative impact on both productivity and culture. A survey conducted by Robert Half reported that 60% of employees had worked for a micromanager at some point in their career. Of that group, 55% said it decreased their productivity and 68% said it dampened their morale.

They get results

In addition to empowering the team, managers need to keep the company’s larger goals in mind. Successful leaders get results because they help their team develop the skills required to achieve the necessary results. And they recognize that employees are more productive when they are part of the bigger picture.

Digital workplace solutions like Town Halls give managers a forum for sharing the company goals and vision and provide an opportunity to connect with employees across the company.

They are passionate about company culture

You know a great manager when you see one. They are the person whose positivity is contagious. A positive working culture matters to great leaders because they understand that’s where people thrive. Leaders who portray this quality lead by example. For example, they participate in discussions (not just to give directions), and they join the social and team-building events.

They are not afraid to innovate

“But this is the way we have always done it.” These are not words you will hear a great manager say, because thinking outside the box is one of the key qualities of a great manager and leader. In a digital workplace, it is critical to find new ways of working together to tackle business challenges. That is why great leaders foster and encourage innovation.

They have a sense of humor

A survey from the Predictive Index suggests that a sense of humor should be on the list of traits of a great manager, and two Stanford business professors agree. Digital workplace tools like a social center can help managers inject a bit of fun into the corporate culture, encouraging employees to post personal stories or funny links throughout the day.

They have a sense of humility

The importance of humility in business is often overlooked, but according to Forbes, humble leaders listen more effectively. Humility is about being more focused on the team, having a “them first” — not “me first” — attitude that plays into some of the other traits we have discussed today.

Bad leadership qualities to avoid

Now that we know what good traits to look for, there are also bad leadership traits to keep in mind to avoid. This is crucial, since the fact someone has a couple of positive characteristics doesn’t mean they don’t have any negative ones. Let’s take a look at some examples of qualities that can harm your workplace culture, employee motivation, and more.

Loss of direction

Within an ever-changing world and business environment, it’s critical for your leaders to keep their eyes on a steady goal or vision. “Leadership drift” is a characteristic of bad managers and occurs when someone has forgotten their core mission or purpose within the company. It often leads to improper planning strategy because expectations and goals don’t align. Avoiding this will ensure that everyone stays on the same page, from the top down, and that your leaders are working to progress the company along its intended trajectory.

Poor executive presence

Leaders are beacons that your employees look to for guidance and confidence, so when your leaders are lacking firm and assertive decision-making, it can cause doubt and ambiguity. This quality is especially relevant when under pressure, as a leader’s support and guidance will be even more important to those working around them. Leaders that have good executive presence will bolster confidence in your team and direction, while improving decisions and strategy.

Lack of transparency

Another trait of a bad manager is a lack of transparency and openness. People want to know what’s going on in the company, and when a leader isn’t upfront and doesn’t share information, it causes rifts between them and others. Trust is an incredibly important factor in workplaces and losing it can increase employee turnover, decrease motivation, and proliferate the spread of false information and rumors through the grapevine.

Uncompromising leadership style

To adapt to the changing industry landscape and internal work environment, leaders must be flexible and aware of current and upcoming shifts. Having an inflexible leadership style means that they don’t accommodate employee needs and preferences, it’s harder to adjust to new situations, and more.

Doesn’t take feedback seriously

One way to solve uncompromising leadership and other bad leadership qualities is through feedback. However, a leader needs to actively listen and the feedback has to be taken seriously and considered for this to work. If not, people will be less likely to voice opinions and feedback, leading to a feedback loop that hurts your work culture and employees.

Inability to follow

While it’s important for leaders to be decisive and lead those around them, it’s also important to understand when and how to follow. Those who have never followed others in their careers tend to struggle to understand how to be an effective leader because they aren’t able to empathize and understand their workers’ perspectives. Taking a step back and allowing others to dictate strategy or decisions allows for more input from more people, leading to a more informed direction.

Unaware of their weaknesses

No one is without weaknesses, and great leaders are cognizant of theirs and work around them. Whether through surrounding themselves with others who can cover these weaknesses, or being mindful of the effects that it can have, this is something that bad managers lack. Leaders who aren’t self-aware not only hurt their contributions to your organization, but their career progress as a leader as well.

Avoids conflict

Conflict is typically something that is considered bad, and leaders certainly shouldn’t seek it out. However, completely avoiding it is also harmful and allows issues to build until a breaking point that is always worse than solving the problem at an earlier stage. These issues get in the way of teamwork, organizational culture, and much more, so it’s important for leaders to identify when conflict is brewing and step in to take care of it. Avoiding conflict also makes it seem as though the leader doesn’t care about the team on a personal level and only cares about work getting done.

Doesn’t take accountability

As a leader, one of the aspects that come with the role is an increased amount of responsibility, even if they aren’t directly performing a certain task. An inability to accept accountability for something that goes wrong builds resentment and can tear teams apart. Leaders should be celebrated for their team’s wins just as much as they should take blame for their team’s missteps, and bad leaders won’t do this.

Stays in their comfort zone

The final characteristic to keep an eye out for in bad managers is a willingness to remain in their comfort zone. A leader’s job is to push forward, and that can’t happen if they’re complacent and content to stay with the status quo. Bad leaders will focus on survival and maintaining rather than innovation and growth, so identify instances where this occurs and make sure that your leaders are always striving to be great.

Turn good into great

To be successful, organizations should look for these qualities in new recruits or when promoting within. In the words of Bill Gates, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

So, take a look inside your organization and see if your people leaders are contributing to a culture of empowerment, and if not, emphasizing what characteristics can turn a good manager into a great one is a great place to start.

Build your great managers a great platform to create a productive and positive digital workplace today with Igloo Software.