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How to be a good manager (because you're not born with it)

a woman learns how to be a good manager for her teammates

Not every great employee makes a good manager. 

Many people strive to become managers, and it’s often seen as a goal of career success. Although employees might display natural leadership ability, most won’t automatically know how to be a good manager. 

Usually, a highly skilled and engaged employee gets recommended for a management role based on their excellent work performance and value within successful teams. And they deserve the recognition! But no one can make the transition from standout employee to leader overnight. It takes training, coaching and hands-on experience.

Promoting people without prior prep is, unfortunately, a very common mistake. Back in 2012, Harvard Business Review research showed that first-line managers had generally been in a management role for a decade before they got any type of valuable leadership training. That was eight years ago, but many organizations today are still taking the same risk of putting star performers into roles they’re not fully equipped to handle.

By doing that you risk losing customers, employees and the very star performer that you wanted to acknowledge and retain. You also risk decreased productivity and damage to your brand reputation, company culture and employer brand.

The worst thing is that when things start backsliding, executive management mostly lay the blame on the new manager and boot them out. From hero to zero because they weren’t given the training and support they needed before and throughout their promotion. Their downfall: they didn’t spontaneously know how to be a good manager.

In reality, the blame lies at the door of those who decided to award the career advancement without a thorough analysis of leadership skills, readiness and suitability. It can take the ex-employee years to recover confidence in their abilities and not develop a defeatist attitude

Table of contents
Why not everyone is suited to a leadership role
How to identify and develop managerial potential
What makes a good manager?
How can businesses determine excellent leadership?
How to hire good managers?
Wrapping up the learnings on how to be a good manager

Why not everyone is suited to a leadership role

Throughout my years in HR, one of the prime reasons I’ve seen first-time managers fail is that they’re not emotionally ready when they get promoted. They’re great at their job, advance project progress, motivate their colleagues and are highly engaged in their role, but they lack emotional intelligence.

While the employee themselves might apply for a management role, senior managers should delay promotion and start a process of coaching and leadership training. Once an employee realizes the implications and responsibilities of managing a team, they’ll understand that they need to learn how to be a better manager and leader.

A new manager evolves from being a great employee who is keen, involved and contributes to an organization’s goals, to motivating others to buy-in as they do. That’s a huge task! It’s a shift in role from contributor to viewing the big picture and selling it to other employees to get their buy-in.

It’s sort of like going from a dependent child to a responsible parent overnight, without prior warning.

That requires a total change in mindset. You not only have to view your role differently, but adopt a whole new approach to projects, people and customers. Without the right coaching and training to make this mental shift, you will struggle. The main reason is that when faced with a challenge, we naturally draw on our past experience to find a solution. But this often doesn’t work, even if you’re in the same team. Your role and responsibilities have changed dramatically, so the obstacles that arise require entirely different solutions.

Employees look to their leader for guidance, motivation, technical knowledge and problem resolution. A leader who, for example, lacks direction, can’t handle pressure, doesn’t share information, micromanages or dictates will quickly lose the trust of their team. Productivity and quality can decrease, and employee turnover can increase. This adds to the stress of the manager, so their performance is likely to deteriorate – and they might be totally unaware of why things are going south rapidly.


Another reason why new managers fail to deliver on expectations is that they’re not suited to leadership. They might have brilliant minds and technical skills, great people skills and be dedicated to getting project results, so they look like an ideal candidate for a management role. 

However, some people are highly focused by nature and can find the multitasking of leadership very stressful. As stress takes a toll on the individual, anxiety can set in, and their productivity or personal wellbeing starts to suffer.

These people are usually extremely results-focused, but because of their high level of focus, they prefer to work alone. It’s not that they’re anti-social, it’s because their minds are so concentrated on the solutions they’re creating that they can’t share their ideas in the design or invention phase. In other words, they’re so absorbed that they let go of how to be a good manager.

Training and coaching can help, but there must be an open and honest conversation about whether a management role is suitable. You can force a square peg into a round hole, but there will be gaps that need to be addressed either through coaching or by tailoring the role to the person. 

Technical specialists and creative minds are often inclined to block off all distractions when they’re focused on a project or solution. Interruptions become stressful, and they could underperform at their job or ignore the needs of others. Not good for a management role!

An example:

Mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein and musician Avicci are typical examples of people who delivered brilliant, pioneering results. They were overachievers from different eras and their fields were poles apart, but they shared an important characteristic.

Both of them frequently worked in a personal silo for extended hours on end and found distractions stressful. It’s reported that both of them even ignored personal needs, like eating and sleeping, when they were working on something that had their full attention. To them, coming up with the result they wanted was all that mattered to the exclusion of everything (and everyone) else.

There are plenty of people like them. These people are creators and innovators who are invaluable to your company and product. But putting them in a management role can cause them to move on, or it can take a massive toll on their health and wellbeing. That’s why thorough analysis and consultation is critical before you promote a brilliant employee.

How to identify and develop managerial potential

Management is a career goal for many employees, and they work hard to get there. With this being their focus, they start putting pressure on their managers whenever there’s a new opportunity. And because the relationship is good, line often recommends them without thinking the promotion through.

Some companies turn to standard personality tests to check if the employee has leadership potential. Unfortunately, these tests are very limited, and although there might be an indication of natural leadership traits, it doesn’t mean much. Children display natural leadership traits in play, but without nurturing and development, it may amount to nothing.

What are the indicators that someone will make a good manager? Naturally, every industry and organization has different requirements for success, but there are some core factors to consider upfront.

  • Do they have the depth of relevant skills and experience to guide others?
  • Do they have effective communication skills with peers, management and customers?
  • How do they handle pressure and unexpected challenges?
  • Can they think on their feet and come up with innovative solutions?
  • Do they accept responsibility for mistakes and learn from them?
  • How well developed are their conflict resolution skills?
  • How readily do they share information with their peers and management?
  • Do they display empathy and understanding towards slower team members?
  • Are they well-liked and do they get along with everyone in the organization?
  • Do they have confidence, and will they stand their ground if they know they’re right?

There are other factors, but if even a few of the above are missing, they’re not ready for a leadership role. One of the most significant risks is if a person is solely driven by ambition and ego, without any motivation for people to balance it out.

This could make for a charismatic leader, but one who lacks the necessary people management skills to be an effective leader. As the saying goes “give someone money and power and their true self will be revealed.” This is why it’s so important to have full awareness of your team’s motivations.

F4S is a people analytics platform that allows you to gauge where employees are at, areas they need to develop and where their strengths lie. It’s an excellent tool for developing employees for future management roles and improving leadership styles in existing managers.

What makes a good manager?

A glaring red flag of bad management is a department that has a high turnover rate, low productivity, less employee engagement and work quality issues. But then there are also mediocre managers where things run along at an average pace. Without regular tracking of performance data companies can lose a considerable amount from their bottom line through disengaged or barely competent management.

Before you can set a benchmark to measure excellent management, you have to analyze how well your current leadership team is performing. Google did just that in 2008, when they launched internal research called Project Oxygen

The aim was to identify the quality of their managers and understand what the makings were of high performing managers. Back then, they came up with eight behaviors that existed in all of their best managers. As the company changed and evolved, Google revisited Project Oxygen ten years later and added a further two behaviors and made a few amendments to the original eight.

This is what Google found on how to be a good manager in 2018:

  1. Are a good coach
  2. Empower teams and don’t micromanage
  3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and wellbeing
  4. Are productive and results orientated
  5. Are good communicators who listen and share information
  6. Support career development and discuss performance
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills to help advise the team
  9. Collaborate across Google
  10. Are strong decision-makers

These are the current top ten behaviors of great managers at Google. You’ll have to determine what makes a great manager within your organization.

How can businesses determine excellent leadership?

Through gathering data, analysis, surveys and one on one interviews with managers and employees!

Measure management performance against your best standards of team productivity, retention, engagement and service. If you’re unsure of what these benchmarks are, turn to industry standards. You do, after all, want to be better than your competition.

Compile separate, but standard questions for managers and employees so that you have a fair and uniform measure for their responses. In other words, stick to areas around productivity, engagement and communication as well as other soft skills. Avoid technical issues. A lack of soft skills in any manager will quickly come out when employees answer questions around how well supported they feel. (Read about the difference between soft vs hard skills.)

Build your survey questions around:

  • Empathy, caring and a genuine interest in the success and personal wellbeing of others
  • Communication and listening skills, as well as seeing alternate points of view
  • Sharing the organization’s vision and motivating individuals to embrace it
  • Encouraging innovation, problem-solving and voicing alternate opinions
  • Encouraging people to learn from failure rather than punishing them
  • Coaching and training people on the job to develop them while getting the job done
  • The frequency of one on one meetings around personal motivation and career aspirations
  • Acknowledging improvements around behaviors, career goals and daily deliverables
  • Emotional resilience in challenging circumstances and the ability to keep the team motivated despite trying times or issues
  • Allowing people to solve problems on their own while still offering support and avoiding micromanagement
  • Practicing fair treatment across the team, including allocation of tasks and allowing people the opportunity to grow
  • Embracing the organization’s vision and explaining the importance of each person’s role in successful outcomes so that people feel part of the company
  • Results orientated with high performance and quality standards while helping people overcome stumbling blocks so that they learn

These are the universal behaviors of good managers, no matter the industry or size of the company. Managers must understand that they’re there to serve, develop and motivate their team to succeed so that organizational goals get met. They’re not there to exert authority or wield power over others.

How to hire good managers?

Once you’ve created benchmarks for existing management, you must ensure that you apply the same standards to new hires. You must know what you need before you even start looking. Review your current best managers in similar departments and bring them in on the planning. Ask them what they find the most difficult aspect is of their job and also if they anticipate additional challenges. This is particularly important now as the business world reopens to a whole new environment that’s dictated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. An obvious problem is learning remote team communication, for example.

Let’s take a look at what Google advises:

  • Have standard interview questions and a way for the hiring team to standardize their assessments of each candidate
  • Assess candidates objectively and ensure that unconscious bias gets dealt with upfront
  • Set the bar high and keep on looking until you find a candidate who’s better than the people you already have; this adds something new
  • Find your own candidates if possible
  • Give candidates a reason to want to join your company

It’s not only business, but whole societies, that are living in a time of uncertainty. No one can say for sure how long the pandemic will last and what impact it will have. Business and daily life will definitely go on, but if you want your company to survive, you must have strong leadership on board. From supervisors to c-suite executives, you need leaders who are resilient, empathetic, versatile and can get results out on time.

Wrapping up the learnings on how to be a good manager

Despite research released in 2012 showing that businesses don’t offer management adequate support, companies have continued to appoint people without the right coaching and training.

Many organizations have had to shut their doors in 2020 because of global lockdowns, international trade restrictions and economic decline. Every single manager in your company, from supervisors upwards, must be up for the challenge, given ongoing coaching and get regular training.

Business decisions are going to be made on the go, and if you fail to communicate with your management team, they won’t carry the message over to employees. Executives, managers and employees have to move in tandem if your business is going to adapt, remain competitive and survive these uncertain times. 

F4S offers you real-time analysis, profiling and personalized leadership coaching to build teams that will keep your company thriving and your managers motivated. Start for free today.

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