What Makes a Great Manager? 7 Qualities Needed to Lead

illustration of a manager with multiple hands juggling paper, clock, people

You have the people skills, you’ve put in the time and you’ve earned the trust of leadership. The most important thing you need to know now is how to become a great manager. We’ve all had managers that fall short of greatness—it’s a challenging role, after all. But with the right qualities and attitude, you can become the kind of manager that makes a positive difference.

So what makes a great manager? It’s not a single-sentence answer because there are dozens of management styles and countless opinions. But at the same time, when you ask enough people, you begin to see patterns.

We caught up with a handful of managers and professionals to talk about the qualities, habits and communication styles of great managers.

Understanding what makes a great manager

1. Respect

Nobody likes to have someone watching over their shoulder, but at the same time, it can be maddening to feel like you’re never certain about your manager’s expectations. By trusting your employees to do their work while giving them the support to do it, you can communicate respect for what they bring to the table.

“You need to make sure that expectations about what is to be accomplished are clear to everyone and then to hold people accountable,” says Dave Waring, cofounder of Fit Small Business. While being a manager means setting the standard, it doesn’t mean dictating exactly how employees get there.

2. Adaptability

Great managers don’t get stuck in the rut of one leadership style. Your direct reports will look to you for guidance and respond to your leadership best when you can adapt to their individual needs. 

“For those who always deliver results and don't like to be micromanaged—leave them alone to do their job, and be there to support them when needed,” says Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting. “For employees who like more hands-on involvement, be more engaged.”

3. Active listening

People will easily recognize a manager on a power trip—especially when they’re doing all the talking. Likewise, most people will respect leaders who take the time to truly listen to the ideas of those they lead.

 “Managers who ‘tell’ instead of spending time asking and listening miss the richness of their employees’ insights,” says Leigh Steere, cofounder of Managing People Better, LLC. “Employees might follow directions, but you’re not getting their best thinking because you’re not asking for it.”

4. Encouragement

Nobody liked the teacher who seemed to find joy in shaming a student with late homework. In the same vein, don’t expect to earn respect from direct reports if you are openly critical and keep encouragement to yourself.

“Behavior that gets praised gets repeated,” says Michael Timms, president of Avail Leadership. “If someone does something well, let them know they hit the mark so that they will know what to aim for next time.”

The setting this feedback is in provided also matters. Praise and encouragement are often best shared broadly, while critiques or constructive negative feedback should be given in private.

5. Empowerment 

An important part of management is helping your direct reports grow into their careers, pursue goals and evolve into better professionals. By trusting them with projects that will stretch their skills, you can help build them up and ultimately improve your team’s capabilities.

“Realize that if people are going to be happy in their jobs and stay with your company for an extended period of time, they need to feel that they are constantly making forward progress in their careers,” Waring says.

6. Self-improvement

Helping others develop is an excellent trait and a big piece of what makes a manager great. However, truly great leaders are always working on self-improvement too.

“[Great managers] are constantly seeking unfiltered feedback so they can work on eliminating bad habits and building good ones,” Timms says. “Managers who do this unshackle their potential to motivate others.”

It’s hard to get better at anything if you don’t know what needs work. Seeking this feedback out is critical for refining your management approach and planning for your own development.

7. Honesty

Not knowing where you stand with your manager is never a nice feeling. Great managers will respectfully give employees the unvarnished truth, no matter whether they’re a rock star or struggling mightily.

“Don't beat around the bush,” Waring says. “Be clear and direct about what is expected and how the employee is performing based on those expectations.”

This can be one of the most challenging parts of being a manager. It’s easy to shy away from tough conversations with struggling employees you might like on a personal level. But that’s also a good way to ensure issues never get corrected and potentially lead to larger, more difficult conversations. Honest, direct communication paired with an opportunity to fix poor performance can go a long way toward their development and building trust in you.

Do you have the potential to be a great manager?

Great managers are always looking for ways to improve. Though you likely already have some of these qualities, your drive to develop even more is what will help you most in your management career. To learn more about what makes a great manager, check out the Rasmussen University Business Management Degree page, and find out if further education could be the right next move for you.

Hannah Meinke

Hannah Meinke is a writer at Collegis Education. She enjoys helping people discover their purpose and passion by crafting education and career-related content on behalf of Rasmussen University.

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