What makes a good manager?

I’ve been managing staff now for eighteen years.   I’ve seen many management styles, some I respect, some I have resolved never to replicate.   I have said in the past that my own style is ‘consultative and encouraging’ – perhaps a testament to this are the number of people I have managed who have gone on to diverse careers or satisfying professional projects.  I’ve been proud of those successes.

So what are the essentials for a good manager?  As ever, this is my own personal opinion.

1.  I feel very strongly that if you have the responsibility of managing staff, then you should always make time for them, and never view them as an inconvenience.  Ask someone to come back later and you might be creating a problem which could have been solved by talking about it at the time of need.  Anyway, being a manager means you have responsibility and a duty of care for people in your team.  Those who perform well should be congratulated, trusted, and developed, and if you find someone good think of succession planning or allowing that person the opportunity to develop in areas where they might be lacking.  They might be in a position to do you a good turn one day.

2. Managers must deal with rough times as well as times which go well.  Look for the red flags.  If your team show signs of overwork, stress or unhappiness, you are the person who must find ways to help and reassure them.  Think about the strengths and skills your staff have and assign work appropriately.  Listen and respond to suggestions.  Consult where possible, inform where appropriate.  That way you gain the respect of those who work for you, and hopefully they will have loyalty to you and your team as well as to your organisation.

3. Have a clear idea what you need from a new staff member, and know what type of skills/work performance is inappropriate for your needs.  For example, don’t recruit someone with poor IT skills or a lack of initiative if they need to work on complex screen-bound projects or the ability to work independently.  Be prepared though to take the occasional risk, because if you don’t people have nothing to aim for and you might lose a valued colleague who might be the best employee in the place, given the chance.

4.  Deal with poor performance as soon as it starts.  Don’t let it escalate to the point where poor performers might feel they can get away with doing very little, or where a lack of ability seems to be rewarded.  Think about strategies to move the person forward – sadly, these problems are often inherited but in the interests of your team and organisation they need to be nipped in the bud quickly and fairly, using formal procedures where appropriate.

5. Seek advice from other managers who may have been there before you, and remember that leadership is something which can be learned if you keep an open mind.  If you witness examples of poor management, learn from it how not to do something.  If you find a role model you can respect and emulate, it is a gold mine – don’t impose, but watch and pick up good practice from them.

6. Give yourself some time and space – you are a human being and not just a manager.  Don’t be bound by procedure, but be flexible where you can.  Try and put yourself in the shoes of others when you have to work with them.  Look after your own health and talk to your own manager when you feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to go next.  Even a CEO has doubts.

7. Make sure you are aware of the work going on in your team, but don’t interfere.  Your job is to lead and to set targets, develop procedures and policies, and make sure regular tasks are completed, and projects come in on time.  Your staff might have different ways of achieving this, and if they are the right staff (and when you recruited, you got this right, didn’t you?), you can trust them to deliver and have pride in the results.

8. Always stand up for your team in times of adversity.  You know the area you work in very well, and the pressure points and slack periods.  You can speak with authority in their defence, and where possible avoid them being inconvenienced, overworked, or put under pressure.  And when delegating, always think about whether your expectations and timescales are achievable.  They might be for you, but are they for your staff?  There’s never a good reason to make your staff frustrated or miserable, or to let anyone else do this.

9. Managers have to be aware of the wider picture within their department, organisation and sector, and have an eye on the future and where skills may need to be acquired, or workflows revised.  Consult with those involved in the operational side where appropriate before implementing new solutions, and consider whether doing something because it has always been done that way is the most effective way of working.  Never belittle anyone’s achievements or skills, and never think your organisation is right in the way it does everything.  There is always a new way of looking at an issue.

10. You can’t be a friend and a manager.  You can be courteous, but distant.  Use your peer support network of other managers to move forward, and keep yourself sane!   Always remember those lower down the ladder need your help to progress, and that they, too, might have something you can learn from, so develop strong working relationships.

I’d like to give a nod to some people across my working life who have been instrumental to my development as a manager – Gaynor at J Walter Thompson; Linda, Brenda, JR, and Marjorie at University of Salford; Tracey, Di, Michael, Gail, and Susan at University of Leeds; Sandy, Elizabeth, Angela, Helen and Bev at Kingston University.  Thank you all.

And as any manager worth their salt must know, their most important resource is their team members.  So thanks also to them.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Tracey Stanley on July 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Nice post Louise. I think any manager wouldn’t go far wrong with this sage advice!


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