There are good managers. And then, there are great ones.
According to The Predictive Index, nearly 30% of employees believe their managers fail at team-building skills, and a portion of them suck at handling feedback, delegation, and time management.
While some best practices are inherited over the years (starting with the way families raise their children), the evolution of management builds on top of “hard skills” in the corresponding business segment, interpersonal communication, mastering psychology techniques for handling conflicts, and getting to know each team and the business objectives separately.
It’s an iterative process and some managers are better at certain activities than others – but following this guide will help you master the most important skills that all top managers possess.
The Traits of a Great Manager
Great managers commonly grow within a business. Many of them started from low-paid, intense jobs as regular employees. They evolved because they were excellent in their tasks, delivered good results, and went through many promotions until they were offered a senior management role.
This growth process is the reason why many MBA graduates find it difficult to land on a job that is relevant to their field. After all, what they learned
Managers who are successful in their respective fields leading large teams need to bounce between daily activities with various team members and then to the global responsibilities of the organization.
A lot is expected of a successful manager.
After all, they have already proven themselves on more than one occasion before. And though managers were not born perfect, they need to have some considerable skills to lead a team and drive a project forward. These skills include the following:
- Highly Productive
- Effective Time Management
- Knows How to Achieve a Goal
- Efficiency in Doing the Job
- Excellent People Skills
- Good at Handling Criticisms
Let’s dive into each of the following skills and discuss what makes them paramount to become a respected manager at work.
1. Highly Productive
Knowing what to focus on and what to prioritize are integral to higher productivity. Complying with an already established set of processes does great wonders.
In conquering new challenges and solving any kind of problem, what kills productivity is the lack of ability to structure a workflow so it becomes manageable. Great managers know, understand, and are able to do that.
To increase productivity, great managers define a repeatable (or even automated) process.
They design flow charts or use case diagrams, or prepare some cheat sheets printed on the desk (or pinned on the whiteboard).
Consider your management craft closely related to building autonomous processes that are easy to follow. Every member involved in the workflow should be clear on when their work starts, what are the expected deliverables, who should take it from there.
Good managers are able to identify communication overhead and misalignments in the team (resulting in mistakes and stress). Streamlining and creating new processes is part of the journey. And effective processes are easy to memorize and follow, leaving the rest to repetition.
When I feel stuck for a week, my favorite workaround is increasing the volume of work within a given time frame. You would be surprised how easy it is to figure out which processes are broken and need more attention.
2. Effective Time Management
Time management is what it takes to fight procrastination.
Luckily, there is a diverse suite of techniques that would help you increase your productivity.
I’ve found that there’s no unique approach that works for everyone. Which is why I wrote an extensive productivity guide listing down some of my favorite processes, frameworks, and tools.
For example, Pomodoro revolves around blocking 25-minute blocks of your time followed by a 5-minute break. Every few Pomodoros, you can reward yourself with a longer break and get back to your activity.
While this may work for independent freelancers or writers, that’s not the case for phone support agents or managers who get pulled by staff constantly across the workday.
Some strategies like the 1–3–5 list help you organize daily priorities:
- 1 critical/major task
- 3 activities with medium priority/complexity
- 5 minor quick wins
In this video, I have discussed further the 1-3-5 productivity technique.
As long as you can organize your workflow in a similar manner, this would work for you.
Seinfeld’s technique called “Don’t break the chain” simply requires you to keep track of your long-term progress on a calendar. Daily.
Just keep progressing without breaking the chain and you’re good to go. It’s something that you can implement even if you are eager to lose weight or work out in the gym.
There are other techniques and methodologies out there. You can come up with one that works for your own work style. Or combine them for different forms of activities.
- A simple Daily List of Tasks. This one of the alternatives I use. Could be on a physical notebook or a task manager like Evernote, Asana, Wunderlist, Google Keep. Plan your weekly agenda on daily iterations and tackle them accordingly.
- Google Calendar. This alone may do the work for you. It’s all about limiting distractions by focusing on a specific list of activities across the day or the week. Make sure you don’t find excuses along the way and stress on the importance of crossing the checkmarks on your list.
- A “Power Mode” game. This would be pushing as many activities as possible. It’s exhausting and time-consuming but it’s a good practice for a couple of weeks if you want to get rid of the distraction mindset.
Great managers are productive — there’s no question about it. Tap into the global pool of productivity data online and continuously refine your processes for success.
3. Knows How to Achieve a Goal
Great managers are good problem solvers.
When discussing a new problem, set a hard deadline that’s realistic.
As long as the goal is achievable, you allocate enough time, and ensure that there is no way around it — it will happen. It sounds simple but new managers often try to work out the estimates in mysterious ways and stress their team out due to unclear communication or unpredicted scope creep.
As long as you don’t aim for the stars over the course of 2 weeks, achieving a goal is a matter of gaining the right skills or expertise and hitting the target.
There are some booster strategies that could help as well.
- Sharing your goal publicly or with your trusted inner circle will lead to a major disappointment if you procrastinate and fail.
- Giving $1,000 (or another lump sum that matters to you) to a friend that you would receive back only after the goal is achieved in time may help, too.
- Joining a community of others who aim for similar goals may be motivating as well.
- People generally procrastinate because they are not laser-focused on their goals. They are lower on their list of priorities. They dream of a quick win without putting the time and effort into winning.
Transform your mindset and the goal will become a reality.
4. Efficiency in Doing the Job
Being productive and understanding how to achieve a goal results in higher efficiency.
Understanding what needs to be done and knowing how to do it is imperative for great managers. This is what I learned when working with a guy named Frank.
Frank knew everything about anything. He wasn’t the most motivating manager – usually cold, brief, to the point. We had a couple of friendly moments but the rest was fairly unpredictable given his extremely high standards.
He often said that he wanted to be the next Steve Jobs. People were mostly assets and his troops had to be 100% determined to disrupt the market. This was the quality I didn’t really inherit since it didn’t sync with me. But it worked for him – the business is now getting fairly close to a startup worth a billion dollars.
And he managed to build a team of freaking rockstars – Absolutely brilliant people who are quite experienced in multiple areas at a time. For instance, our designer was a rockstar JS and Ruby developer as well as having a marketing degree. I always felt like the weakest link.
Frank was the smartest of ’em all. He had sold 7 businesses for 7–8 figures each already and ran multiple businesses with several teams profiling in various industries. Even with work for
He pretty much had an absolutely outstanding and 100% correct feedback for designers, front-end developers, back-end staff, DevOps, sales, and marketing. Every great solution bounced back with legitimate feedback that brought it closer to perfection.
His hiring and multidisciplinary skills were nuts. That’s what I’ve been working on ever since, studying in-depth completely different areas of business and technology in order to be as helpful and competent as I can possibly be.
Connect with exemplary managers or follow industry leaders you admire online.
- Study their management habits
- Gather feedback from their team (publicly available online or on Glassdoors or Quora)
- Listen to their podcasts
- Read their interviews or publicly available content
You won’t reverse-engineer everything. But there’s plenty of information already available that you need to seek and process. It’s worth the hassle.
5. Great People Skills
Great managers are awesome team players.
Getting the right people to do a job is a part of the process. Knowing how to deal with your customers the best way possible is imperative. This is what I learned from a great manager named Andrew.
Andrew was a chill business founder. He had some tech know-how but wasn’t a professional developer. I worked in a distributed team of 20 across 12 countries.
He had a brilliant approach to hiring:
“I only hire people who have freelancing or startup background for at least 2 years.”
The reasons: self-driven attitude, attention to detail, great communication skills and serious commitment to deadlines.
It was a product startup and I’d joined as a developer. Since I was sharing fresh ideas and business growth suggestions 2–3 times a week, he called me one day and offered me a technical marketing role.
I had to engage in a completely new venture yet he persuaded me to, and I embraced the marketer inside of me.
I left when I was assigned an external senior manager who repetitively enforced wrong solutions to the right problems. It escalated in a few months and this was the final straw. But I truly enjoyed the job and working with Andrew (and learned a ton as a manager since).
When I met him a couple of years later, he shared that several team members left and he fired the guy. According to him, it was the wrong business decision and he learned his lesson – but the remaining team is even more grateful and loyal to the firm now.
It’s surprising how an expensive lesson can generate some positive outcome after all.
6. Good at Handling Criticisms
How well do you handle criticism?
Your staff has a lot to say — but chances are, they are afraid to share the feedback with you.
This is a false premise when it comes to great managers. You must clearly and repetitively demonstrate the ability to receive critical feedback and act on it. Here’s why this is important and how often your team will be frustrated by the surrounding context.
The fact that a boss has the power to change (almost) everything in a company doesn’t mean that they have the resources to do that. Or that this is a smart move.
Every team member could compile a long list of problems that they have at work. It could be the attitude of a manager or the working hours. Or the location (or even interior design) of the office. The list could be quite exhausting – some online reviews have even criticized the selection of the free lunch at large organizations.
Sometimes it’s a real problem that requires additional time and money from the business under the constraints of other factors. Sometimes, it’s a personal matter which can’t be executed due to a variety of reasons (security, existing business contracts, financial or partnership agreements).
Even if a business problem is reported and acknowledged, it may be something that would be resolved later on as the organization grows. Every team should work together across business challenges and problems in order to support business needs.
And yet, everyone is free to disagree with the office environment or the company policy.
Great Managers Move Mountains
Great managers are great because they have developed skills that are valuable to the business. If you want to become one, learn from others and keep on improving yourself.
Common management problems were the reason I compiled the extensive list of business challenges across both small and massive corporations out there. Even if you manage a single department, you can potentially grow further, step into a director role, a VP, or even join the C-suite.
In order to get there, you must understand the dynamics of running a business, how different departments work together, what problems stakeholders deal with, and how to act on each of them. My essay has covered a list of 30+ challenges and I continuously write about business problems for executives and managers.
And if you want to get a detailed breakdown across different industries, make sure you enroll in my free business accelerator course.