What Is a Good Manager? Top Traits & Goals

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a good manager? What is Julie Zhuo’s definition of management?

In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo says great managers focus on achieving the ultimate goal of all managers. This goal is to facilitate desirable outcomes by inspiring and coordinating the efforts of others. 

Read more to learn what makes a manager great.

Understanding What Makes a Manager Great

What is a good manager, according to Zhuo? Contrary to what many people think, being an effective manager entails more than completing a daily checklist of tasks and telling people what to do. In this section, we’ll first explore what management is. Then, we’ll discuss the qualities of a great manager.

The Definition of Management

Zhuo says that management is about facilitating desirable outcomes by inspiring and coordinating the efforts of others. Great managers build relationships, nurture collaboration, support an efficient workflow, and ultimately advance company goals.

In practice, a manager’s role is similar to that of an orchestra conductor. Just as an orchestra conductor inspires and leads musicians to deliver creative performances, a manager guides team members to combine their talents and deliver great outcomes.

Drawbacks to Zhuo’s Definition of Management

Although Zhuo’s definition has the advantage of focusing on the critical role of management to transform inputs into outputs of greater value, some say her definition is too broad because it doesn’t clarify what outcomes are desirable. One alternative definition specifies that management is responsible for achieving the best financial outcomes and satisfaction for both employees and the company as efficiently as possible.

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.

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.

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. 

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.  

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. 

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.

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.

What Is a Good Manager? Top Traits & Goals

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  • How to build a team and motivate them to work together
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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