The Signs of a Good Manager

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When we speak to first-time managers about the challenges they face, one of them is almost always some version of “I just don’t know whether I’m doing this right.”

It’s understandable.  

Not only is good management hard to measure, but it’s a jarring difference from other roles where your performance is more easily assessed.

Rather than recognizing the bad, looking for signs of a good manager within yourself can make a world of difference in your psyche and confidence. Reflecting on these aspects is a surefire way to continue your grind from a great manager to a great leader.

The Top 11 Signs of a Good Manager

The signs of a good manager or always evident, especially if you’re a new manager. Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on feedback from your direct reports or those above you to know if you’re doing a good job. However, self-awareness and looking for the signs of a good manager can put you on the right track. Here’s what to keep an eye on.

  1. Superb Workflow: You show the hallmarks of regular progress. Even when projects have long time horizons, your team makes consistent, tangible progress toward project and company goals.
  2. Structured Approach to Learning: You have an intentional, focused approach to learning from successes and failures. “What did we need to learn? Why? How did we learn? What did we learn? What decisions did that inform?” If you can answer these questions, you’re contributing to your team’s learning, building trust, and fostering learning opportunities in your work environment.
  3. Higher Decision Authority: Your team doesn’t have to wait on others to make decisions. You need fewer sign-offs and approvals to get things done.
  4. A Grand Strategy: Your approach is detailed enough to provide context for people’s work but broad enough not to sap the team’s energy.
  5. Embracing the Language of Experimentation and Impact: Does your team talk about trying new things, what worked, what didn’t, and what they learned? A trial-and-error period that embraces communication skills, problem-solving, decision-making, and team-building enhances team confidence and employee engagement.
  6. Fewer Dependencies: Your team isn’t reliant on others in a way that creates unnecessary stress.
  7. Direct Contact To Understand the Customer: The team uses fewer proxies and cut-outs to understand their customers and has regular, direct contact. The customer's needs, supported by details and anecdotes, surface regularly in conversation.
  8. Fewer Distractions: The team doesn’t often discuss interruptions and has dedicated stretches of time to focus on their work.
  9. No Elephants in the Room: Every team has challenges, but yours has fewer chronic, intractable issues that no one knows how to deal with or doesn’t want to speak about. You allow people to be human beings and discuss their issues in an open forum. Problems generally get worked on and solved.
  10. Grappling With Uncertainty: Uncertainty doesn’t ruffle your team; they understand it in a context that provides a win for their team, company, and customer.
  11. More Ad-hoc, Willing Collaboration: From new employees to high performers, your team wants to work together and seek each other out to do so. Laughter permeates the office, and your team has fewer transactional conversations.

It's not the whole answer, but chances are that if your team exhibits most of these characteristics, you’re doing a lot right in your management role. You’re on your way to becoming a great boss and building your leadership skills in the process.

If you’re missing some of these signs of a good manager, take time to carefully reflect on whether these could be areas for improvement.

The Next Level: 3 Steps To Becoming a Highly Effective Manager

Teammates giving their manager praise

You’ve avoided the pitfalls of a bad manager and are on your way to becoming a good boss. Exhibiting the signs of a good manager can push you in that direction. But becoming a highly effective manager and leader is another beast altogether. You have to know the right moves to make and where to shine your focus.

One particularly strong manager resource is the First Round Review.  They consistently interview interesting leaders with perceptive views on managing teams.

A consolidation of insights into The 25 Micro-Habits of High-Impact Managers is a helpful document that can reinforce strong management skills and fresh ideas. As you might imagine, with 25 habits to get through, the recommended reading time is 20 minutes.

If you have the time, you’ll almost certainly take lots away from the whole piece, but we wanted to pick out three areas we liked.

Shine a Light on Failure

High-performing teams are characterized by high levels of psychological safety and teamwork, where teammates feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking for help, and challenging the status quo without fear of failure or penalty.

One way to help your team achieve this is by describing a time when you felt you failed and what you learned. You can’t expect your team members to be forthcoming if they don’t see this behavior modeled by their manager.

“Share a story where you've failed personally or professionally and what you learned as a result. It sheds light that we're all human and on the same level. It allows team members to share their concerns and feel like it's okay to fail.”
— Trish Leung, Senior Director, Pantheon  

Cushion the Blows

First Round spoke to several managers who emphasized the importance of your team knowing they have your support, particularly if you’re asking them to reach for ambitious goals.

“Early on, my manager told me, ‘I don't want you to mess up. But if you mess up, I will have your back.’ This instilled in me that my manager trusted my decisions, was willing to help me through potential failure, and subtly applied pressure to live up to that trust. He said it once, but it was impactful enough that I still think about it when I face a new decision in my role.”
— Madeline Willett, Associate Director, Verto Education.

People value knowing that their manager believes in them. This is crucial to job satisfaction, employee retention, and team success — and it's one of the telltale signs of a good manager.

Spot Chances to Send Kudos Up and Down the Chain

We don’t do this often enough. When someone on your team does something excellent, don’t just tell them. Make sure you tell other staff members, your boss, and their peers. Give them a shout-out on social media or during team meetings. Do everything you can to ensure that this contributor’s efforts don’t fall on deaf ears. The best managers aren’t just organized and motivational. They’re cheerleaders for their team without centering on favoritism.

Sending kudos up and down the chain does wonders for their professional reputation, makes it more likely that opportunities will come their way in the future, and provides recognition that can be a wonderful motivator and boost their well-being.

Real-Life Signs of a Good Manager

A manager teaching his team

As a manager, learning priorities to maximize your team’s development is a difficult venture. You don’t want to become a practitioner of micromanagement, but you still need to learn how to be hands-on.

Excellent managers should watch for these real-life signs of a good manager to further reinforce their confidence while building a winning company culture.

Consistent Support

This seems incredibly basic, but the fact that it’s consistently referenced and appreciated by employees suggests managers aren’t doing it enough. Team members want to know that you believe in them and that you have their back—particularly when taking on opportunities that could be exciting but hold the risk of failure.

Managers are often advised to ask in one-on-ones, “What could I be doing to support you more?”  If you haven’t asked it in a while, it might be worth checking in to see what else you could do.

Employee Development

Team members are looking for stretch opportunities, empowerment, help with career development and skills development, mentoring, and trust. Along with support, these are often mentioned by employees as one of the signs of a good manager.

Fortunate Firings

Interestingly, some employees cite that a manager firing them was the best thing that’s happened to them. While some of these claims may be sarcastic, others used the firing as a stepping stone toward improvement.

Sometimes, career development isn’t as simple as jamming a puzzle piece into place. Some people simply aren’t a good fit in a particular organization. These situations remind us that our roles as managers include taking a longer-term perspective on coworkers’ careers. In some cases, advising people to move on (and helping them do that) may be the best thing any manager has ever done for them.

How You Can Achieve the Signs of a Good Manager

Whether you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, or a startup manager, you have the responsibility and duty to manage effectively. You can’t hang your hat on previous accomplishments or successes, but rather, find the self-motivation to continue your parade to the top of the managerial hierarchy.

However, this journey isn’t without hiccups and bumps. You may need advice and ideas beyond your current scope.

That’s just what we’ve set out to do at Unicorn Labs. ‍Through retreats, conversation, and remote learning, we give you the tools to exhibit the signs of a good manager — while also transforming you into a great leader.

Contact us today to discover how our comprehensive approach to management and leadership could be what’s missing from your business.

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