What are the qualities of a good manager? Do all managers share the same traits?
In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo explains that great managers motivate people to work toward a shared goal. They do this by upholding an inspiring vision, establishing trust, and communicating clear expectations.
Learn the qualities that good managers exhibit.
Qualities of a Great Manager
According to Zhuo, anyone can learn to become a great manager. Although great managers can have radically different ways of approaching problems and relating to people, they have some commonalities. Let’s look at qualities that distinguish great managers. Then, we’ll cover practices great managers use to perform well consistently.
What are the qualities of a great manager? Zhuo says to be a great manager you must display these traits:
Motivated to see a team succeed—You must prioritize your team’s performance, always focusing on how you can empower others to get things done well.
(Shortform note: One way to enhance the performance of your team that Zhuo doesn’t mention is to help them create professional development plans (PDPs). A PDP is an evolving document that lists an individual’s skills and their short- and long-term career goals along with clear deadlines. Collaborate with your employees to create strategies to achieve the goals that matter to them. When they’re clear about where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, they’ll be equipped and motivated to produce results efficiently.)
Adaptable—You must be able to switch easily between tasks, according to Zhuo. For a manager, every workday is different, and unexpected demands often surface as priorities shift, processes change, and people come and go.
(Shortform note: Although Zhuo highlights the value of adaptability, she doesn’t offer tips for how to develop this quality. One tip is to focus on possible solutions when you face challenges: Instead of wasting mental energy on the mistakes or events that created your problems, think about what decisions you can make that will help resolve them. Also, write down your thoughts and concerns when challenges arise, as journaling can help you recognize and break old habits that prevent you from experimenting with creative solutions.)
Enjoy interacting with people—As management is primarily a job of “conducting” the efforts of your team, you’ll spend most of your time coaching, motivating, collaborating, and directing people with different personalities. If you find building and nurturing relationships draining rather than fulfilling, Zhuo says management is probably not your ideal career path.
(Shortform note: Although Zhuo states that you must be adept at engaging with others to be a good manager, you don’t need to be an extrovert. In fact, Susan Cain in Quiet says that introverted leaders sometimes have an edge over extroverted leaders, as introverts are more inclined to listen to other team members, solicit feedback, and implement suggestions, thereby empowering and motivating employees to work harder and proactively seek out solutions to problems.)
Able to resolve conflicts—You must be able to calmly guide people through challenging situations, Zhuo says, which includes having hard conversations when people are underperforming or disrupting the team dynamic.
(Shortform note: To resolve conflicts among your team, be sure to frame discussions objectively. This approach directs discussions toward possible solutions and away from personal feelings. Focus on objective points such as the goal of a particular project, expectations for workplace conduct, and the ways measurable results are being affected.)
Willing to own up to missteps and lapses of judgment—According to Zhuo, you must acknowledge when you make mistakes, repair any damage you’ve done, and clarify how you’re going to prevent similar failures going forward. By doing so, you’ll model the behavior you want to see in your team, and you’ll make it easier for your direct reports to trust you.
(Shortform note: Admitting your mistakes, as Zhuo suggests, sets a great example for your employees. It also helps you earn their support and saves your company money. In one study, 81% of 3,100 employees across 13 countries said having a leader who will admit to being wrong is important or very important. In another study, 53% of businesspeople said “ego” (when people don’t admit mistakes, are afraid of making mistakes, and put their interests before the company’s interests) costs between 6% and 15% of annual revenue.)
Great Managers Adopt Practices That Help Them Perform Well
Zhuo says great managers adopt practices that help them maximize their productivity and eliminate distractions. These practices will be different for every manager, as everyone has different preferences and needs. If you’re not sure what practices help you perform your best, Zhuo recommends reflecting on the circumstances in which you’ve done your best (and worst) work in the past, and devising practices based on these circumstances.
For example, perhaps you prefer to have some time to yourself early in the morning rather than going right to work. In that case, consider taking 10 minutes each morning to meditate and set an intention for the day. When you make your productivity practices routine, Zhuo says, you’ll be more present and attentive, enhancing your ability to support others.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Making of a Manager summary :
- How to build a team and motivate them to work together
- How to run productive meetings
- Tips on how to interview and hire the right employees