It's hard to pinpoint the characteristics of great managers — the personal and professional qualities that make them so effective at driving organizational success. However, we've identified five crucial traits that can make a good manager outstanding, along with five leaders who exemplify these characteristics. How many of these five qualities do you embody?
1. Commitment to Developing Employees
While even a bad manager might get decent results in the short term by squeezing their team, the best managers develop their people, because talented, empowered employees are well-positioned to deliver long-term results that make everyone successful. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is a perfect example. In his book, Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book, he sums up his management philosophy like this: "When you were made a leader, you weren't given a crown. You were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others."
2. Exemplary Communication Skills
Communication is a two-way street that requires listening well and speaking openly and honestly in a way that everyone can understand. Communication should never stop; it's the lifeblood of any viable business and the only way a company can help make sure that all employees and stakeholders stay on the same page. Walter Montgomery, a retired CEO who's helped many businesses, says that whether a company succeeds or fails, "depends heavily on skillful communication," according to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Montgomery has seen giant companies disappear because of their managers' inability to communicate.
3. Willingness to Innovate
A close-minded, "do-it-my-way-or-hit-the-highway" manager is the opposite of a great manager. Great managers don't just tolerate new ways of thinking, they actively seek them out when hiring and engaging employees. Daniel Vasella, former CEO of pharmaceutical firm Novartis, was legendary for hiring smart people, pointing them to hard problems and letting them work independently to solve them. As a manager, Vasella empowered people to be different. According to Forbes, Vasella believes that "Personally and professionally, conformity is not important. What is crucial once one sees a new innovative way is to test it out, to get both challenge and support from competent people."
4. A Focus on Diversity
Among the characteristics of great managers is the willingness to cast the widest net possible when it comes to finding and developing talent. One of the best examples of this approach comes from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who's become a champion for women breaking into science and technology, areas where they've traditionally been underrepresented. In a commencement speech at Barnard College, Sandberg made her views clear, saying "We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, [and] reshape the conversation."
5. The Ability to Motivate Meaningfully
Great managers motivate employees by providing a larger sense of meaning beyond money. No business can grow unless its employees grow, too, developing new skills and following their passions. Jane Stevenson, vice chairman of consulting firm Korn Ferry, puts the leader's role well in a quote she shared with Forbes. "Each person needs to feel that they matter, that the outcome wouldn't be the same without their contribution. One of the key jobs of leaders is to make sure each person has a clear sense of purpose and value in connection to the larger mission."
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