What makes a great manager?

By Harriet Croxton August 18, 2015

Mug labelled 'world's best boss'The qualities of our top leaders is generally well documented, with the leading business schools and other well informed organisations regularly reviewing and reporting on what attributes make for the best leaders.

But we all know that leaders and managers are two different breeds and we need to recognise the difference. John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership at Harvard University says that too often, employers use the terms synonymously.

He says, “Management is a set of processes that keep an organisation functioning. They make it work today – they make it hit this quarter’s numbers. The processes are about planning, budgeting, staffing, clarifying jobs, measuring performance, and problem-solving when results did not go to plan. Leadership is very different. It is about aligning people to the vision that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration.”

So, given that not everybody can be a great leader – what are the distinctive qualities that great managers bring?

It’s the leader that businesses value most highly; someone who has results at the forefront of their goals; someone who thinks and acts with the organisations best interests at heart; someone who knows how to get employees to ‘walk the walk’. These are the movers and shakers in our top companies and if you cut them in half, they have success written through them like a stick of rock.

But it’s the manager who keeps things humming along, and the person most employees on the ground are more likely to deal with day to day. We’ve all had plenty of them over the years; some David Brent style, some more Hitler (!) – but many of them actually great at what they do.

Here at Lumesse, we’re in ‘people business’, so I was genuinely interested to know what real people think makes for a good manager.

Maybe you’re the sort of person that wants to be asked if you had a good weekend. (I have a male friend whose PA said at her exit interview that she was leaving because he never asked her how her weekend was!) Or do you love being managed by someone who is completely focused on the goals of the business, hoping that person’s success might carry you with it?

I wanted to ask a real cross section of people; young, old, retired, professional, retail staff, tradespeople etc. Where better to find this cross section of people than on Facebook?

I put out a survey to my 202 contacts (and their network), asking people just one question: –

What top five things do you think makes a good manager?

This is what came back. These are the top five qualities that people (well the people in my network) really value in their managers – in order of importance:

  1. Encourages me to learn and develop my skills
  2. Supportive; backs me up when needed
  3. Easy to approach and talk to
  4. Is credible, honest and trustworthy
  5. Empowers me to make decisions

There are two things that strike me about this list; one is that most of these fall in to the category of ‘inherently nice person’. I think it’s about emotional intelligence and being genuine, someone who is strong and is prepared to stand up for you and doesn’t have an edge or an ego. Great managers have empathy. You can trust them (this is not someone who is going to run you down at the coffee machine). It’s clear from this list what people like. We don’t want the school playground at work: we just want people we can rub along with and trust to support and help us grown in our roles.

The second thing that pleased me is that the vast majority choose ‘Encourages me to learn and develop my skills’ as their number one.

Since we’re all in the business of learning, this is pleasing to say the least! Most people want to do well in their role and develop their skills, and a manager that is keen to let them do that is clearly well thought of.

Interestingly, ‘Is focused on results’ and is ‘good fun’ barely featured up there on the list of things the respondents cared about day-to-day

Do the managers in your organisation you have these skills?

Can you look at the list above and be confident that your mangers offer their staff that sort of support?

At Lumesse we offer a range of learning that meets the needs of organisations and its people. We offer off-the-shelf courses in all areas of management and leadership, pulling together the best of breed content from leading providers. We also offer fully bespoke learning content which might be a traditional off the shelf e-learning course, a learning portal or one of our increasing popular explainers.

If you have a need for management and leadership skills training then pick up the phone and talk to one of our team.

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