What Makes a Good Manager & Leader? 2 Must-Have Traits

What makes a good manager and leader? What do nearly all great leaders do?

In Making Things Happen, management expert Scott Berkun explains what makes a good manager and leader, based on his former management experience for major companies like Microsoft and WordPress. He claims that there are two must-have qualities that define good managers and leaders.

Read on to learn what makes a good manager and leader, according to Berkun.

Good Managers & Leaders Make Things Happen

According to management expert Scott Berkun, for a project manager to be successful, she needs to understand the basics of what makes a good manager and leader. A strong leader is someone who makes things happen by getting the most out of the people she works with. To get the most out of others, Berkun states that a project manager should foster communication and trust among the entire team. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how to achieve those outcomes, based on the descriptions from Berkun’s book Making Things Happen

#1: They Improve Communication by Building Relationships

According to Berkun, a project’s success largely depends on the clarity and effectiveness of communication within a team. A good manager or leader should have the ability to foster communication—it’s one of the most important qualities of strong leadership, according to Berkun. 

A team uses communication to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and work together effectively, and Berkun argues that the best way to improve communication is to build relationships. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but if you take the time to build a relationship, you’ll be much more likely to have honest, open, and more effective communication. If you know your team members well, you’ll know who to go to when you have a specific problem or request. If you already have a healthy relationship with an employee, you can get straight to the point without seeming rude or demanding.

To build stronger relationships, make a point to have informal conversations with the team. If possible, give team members time and space to have conversations with each other, as well. The better a team knows one another, the more likely they are to seek each other out when they have a question or need clarification or assistance on a problem. 

How Conversation Skills Lead to Better Teams

While Berkun argues that building relationships helps communication flow more effectively, the authors of Crucial Conversations point out that a good manager and leader should also learn how to effectively manage difficult conversations and encourage employees to do the same. If a leader and employees have good conversation skills, they’ll have a safer and more productive work environment.

One way good conversation skills lead to more effective organizations is that they encourage everyone to contribute valuable information in a free exchange of ideas. The more dialogue a team has with each other, the more their shared pool of knowledge will grow and become more useful. When people withhold information, however, the group has less information to work with and is more likely to make poor decisions. Additionally, if a team member doesn’t share their ideas, they’ll feel less invested in the process and thus less committed to whatever decisions are made. 

Finally, when employees have good conversational skills, they’re more able to engage in the informal conversations that Berkun feels are critical to building strong relationships. In this way, you can initiate a healthy cycle of sharing and relationship-building.

Understand How Communication Works

To communicate more effectively, Berkun argues a good manager and leader should understand how communication works. All forms of communication, whether an email chain or a verbal conversation, generally progress through a series of five steps. Understanding these steps can help you identify and resolve issues when communication breaks down. Here is a simple model of communication that a project manager can use in daily situations:

  1. Message sent: Whether through spoken word, email, or any other medium, the first step in a conversation is to send information to another person.
  2. Message received: The recipient acknowledges that they have received the information.
  3. Message understood: The recipient acknowledges that they understand the information they’ve received.
  4. Message accepted: The recipient accepts that the information they received is valid.
  5. Message is acted upon: Sometimes simply accepting a message is enough, but other times the information should be acted on in some way. Both parties should agree on what to do with the information.

(Shortform note: In The Effective Executive, Peter F. Drucker explains how communication often breaks down because management treats communication as a one-way street. In other words, managers will only be concerned with communicating their message, not with whether the employees receive or understand it. But as a manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your message is acted upon by your employees. To make sure your message is understood, accepted, and acted upon, Drucker recommends centering the communication around contribution—ask an employee what they plan to contribute to the project, and they’ll be more likely to ask follow-up questions and act on your directions.)

#2: They Build and Maintain Trust

To be a good manager and leader, it’s important that team members trust in your motivations and abilities, and that you can trust them to get the work done. When there’s mutual trust between a manager and the rest of the team, good things happen. There are several ways a manager earns trust: by staying true to her word, by clearly defining roles and expectations, and by delegating responsibilities and decisions to others. Let’s look at each.

Berkun argues that a good manager and leader consistently follows through on their word because it helps build trust in two key ways. First, it gives the team confidence that what you say is important. Second, staying true to your word makes it more likely that others will do the same. When team members know they can depend on you, they’ll want to show that you can depend on them. 

Another way to build trust as a manager is to make it clear what you expect from your team members. If the team knows exactly what you expect of them, they’re less likely to question your motives or shirk responsibilities. Also, if they fail to meet expectations, they’re more likely to be honest about it because they can’t feign ignorance about what those expectations are. 

Lastly, delegating responsibilities and decisions to team members also builds trust. You can ask the team for their input on a problem, or you can directly tell a team member that you want them to take control of a situation. When you give others responsibility, they’ll usually respond in a positive way.

Trustworthy Behaviors 

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown agrees that trust is a crucial element of organizations because it allows teams to rely on each other. She says that trust must develop over time, however, and that often, trustworthiness already manifests in employees as small, daily behaviors. Brown provides seven trustworthy behaviors you might already see in employees, and which you can foster in your whole team. Trustworthy people:

Set and respect boundaries: They know when to say “no.”
Are reliable: They stick to their commitments.
Are accountable: They don’t blame others for their mistakes. 
Keep things to themselves: If they have private information, they don’t share it with others.
Show integrity: They stick to their values.
Aren’t judgemental: They don’t criticize others.
Aren’t presumptuous: They don’t assume people have negative intentions.
What Makes a Good Manager & Leader? 2 Must-Have Traits

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.