How to be a good manager and leader

We’ve all had the pleasure of working with a good manager, and we’ve all had to put up with a bad one. Learning how to be a good leader is not an easy task.

In this piece, we will discuss:

What makes a good manager and leader?

Being a good manager and leader requires an entirely different skill set compared to excelling at other jobs. Many positions are insular; they need the employee to focus on their own work to the best of their ability.

One of the most important qualities of a good manager is the ability to make other people better at their job.

Managers are responsible for motivating, encouraging, and organizing other people, and this is often more about soft skills than hard ones.

Quantifying a manager’s skill set is not a simple task. They utilize considerable interpersonal skills and knowledge developed through experience that is harder to define.

Good managers understand what is unique about their employees and find ways to maximize their potential. This means strategically building upon a team’s strengths and overcoming weaknesses to produce the best possible outcome.

Part of this is creating an inclusive work environment and promoting a positive work culture. But part of it is also continuously tracking how their employees operate and how team dynamics evolve with time and turnover.

It is important to remember that there isn’t a single approach to being a good manager. Instead, a range of different management styles can be effective depending on how they are applied and the workforce they are applied to.

The importance of good management

Good management is fundamental to the success of a business. When you look at an effective and efficient company, the outcomes they achieve can usually be tied back to excellent managers organizing and motivating employees while instilling a positive workplace culture.

Studies by Gallup show managers have a massive effect on employee performance and are responsible for at least 70% of the variance in team engagement. That is a staggering statistic, showing just how much difference good management can make and how significant a small number of employees are to overall company performance.

There is a direct correlation between employee engagement and organizational performance. More engaged employees lead to greater commitment and productivity, improved services, talent retention, and customer satisfaction while also reducing employee absenteeism.

In the HBR survey of staff (predominantly senior-level executives) at organizations with 500 employees or more, they found strong executive leadership” and “high level of employee engagement” to be two of the top-ranking factors (71%) most likely to bring success.

Graph displays factors most likely to bring success for the business


Good managers are vital because their actions are far-reaching and long-lasting. How a manager performs their job affects a large number of employees at every stage of their employee life cycle.

Consider a poorly performing employee. While frustrating, their incompetency or inefficiency is limited to the specific tasks they have, and the staff members directly involved in the outcome of their work. Now consider a manager overseeing many employees. The importance of their job performance is magnified, affecting many more employees, spreading much further throughout the organization, and having a significant impact on the business.

In 2017, Harvard Business Review published an extensive survey into the effect of management practices in the US manufacturing sector. With data from over 35,000 manufacturing plants, they found facilities that emphasize management practices, implementing an incentives-based approach and rigorous monitoring processes, were far more productive, innovative, and profitable.

  • A 10% increase in the plant management index resulted in a 14% increase in labor productivity.
  • Analyzing the top 10% and bottom 10% of plants in terms of performance showed management techniques (18%) had a larger impact on the difference compared to R&D (17%), employee skill (11%), and IT spending (8%).

Given the relative cost of improving management practices compared to overhauling R&D or IT operations, the importance of good management cannot be understated. Hiring or training a small number of managers has a massive impact on the business’s success, far outweighing its cost.

The downsides of poor management

The importance of management and the increased impact it has on an organization means there are significant consequences when performed poorly.

Bad managers waste considerable time and money due to poor decision-making and unmotivated, disengaged employees with poor morale.

A Gallup survey measuring employee engagement asked 1,003 US employees which of the following statement they agree with:

  • “My supervisor focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics.”
  • “My supervisor focuses on my weaknesses or negative characteristics.”

The third category of “ignored” employees encompassed respondents who disagreed with both statements.

Source: Gallup

The results show that 25% of respondents fit the “ignored” category, of which only 2% feel engaged in their work, 57% are not engaged, and a shocking 40% are actively disengaged.

Gallup found that ignoring your employees is almost twice as likely to produce active disengagement compared to focusing on weaknesses.

Besides disengaged employees, another significant downside of poor management is increased employee turnover. There is a saying in business that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers,” and data backs it up. One in two employees say they have left a job to get away from a manager during their career.

Employees are much more likely to seek new opportunities if they:

  • Have a poor relationship with their manager
  • Feel unsupported in their work and professional development
  • Are unable to have honest and constructive communication with their manager

Qualities and traits of a good manager and leader

Finding employees with the required qualities could be a challenging task.

Research by Gallup shows only one in ten people possess all the talents required to be successful, with another two in ten people exhibiting some of the traits of a good manager.

A list of qualities and traits of a good manager is described below:

1. Empathy

Managers must care for and consider the well-being of their employees. This means exhibiting empathy and emotional intelligence to ensure that staff are not susceptible to burnout, a lack of motivation, anxiety, or depression.

A manager who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and tell when something is wrong maintains employee engagement and productivity while reducing employee turnover.

Reacting with the proper support can help staff overcome the challenges they face and ensure that they have structures in place to succeed in their job.

Empathetic managers also protect their team from unjust criticism or unacceptable demands. This could mean protecting employees when blame is misplaced or arguing the team’s point of view to management when unrealistic deadlines for work are set.

2. Work ethic

Management requires a strong work ethic and the willingness to go the extra mile for the team.

Overseeing multiple employees and projects often leads to significant workloads and long hours. However, good managers don’t shy away from doing the work required. Instead, they dedicate themselves to the job, setting a good example for their employees.

Employees with hard-working managers that don’t just coast off their work are more likely to be loyal and dedicated to their job.

3. Honest and fair

Employees respect managers who are honest, fair, and transparent in all their dealings with them.

They want truthful feedback and to be kept informed about their current and future work situation in a matter-of-fact way. Patronizing or withholding crucial information from staff backfires, creating mistrust moving forward.

When employees no longer trust or have confidence in their manager, the relationship deteriorates considerably and becomes untenable in the worst-case scenarios.

4. Reliable

Similarly, demonstrating reliability and trustworthiness is the starting point to building a good relationship with staff members and fundamental to leadership.

Managers that keep their word are the most successful.

Staff must be able to rely on their manager and know they aren’t saying one thing and doing another.

5. Communication skills

Good communication skills are a prerequisite to being a good manager. So much of a manager’s day-to-day job is rooted in communication with both the employees beneath them and the leadership team above them.

Tracking team performance, getting feedback, and staying on top of potential issues requires continual contact with key personnel.

While managers must be able to clearly delegate tasks and concisely explain essential details, they also need to be great listeners. Communication is a two-way process. Managers who don’t take on board feedback or understand employee concerns struggle to build an effective workforce and adapt to new circumstances.

Nowadays, for many managers, written communication and communicating across video calls are perhaps more important than face-to-face situations. With technology further integrating into business and remote working not going anywhere, good managers have learned how to overcome these challenges and find the best way to oversee a team while physically separated.

6. Motivational

As we mentioned, one of the primary goals of management is to get the best performance possible out of their employees. This often stems from motivation and empowering staff to succeed.

However, each employee is different, and motivating them all is a difficult needle to thread. What works for some staff can have the opposite effect for others. Some staff react well to loud and boisterous encouragement; some prefer private recognition or incentive-based approaches offering tangible benefits in exchange for reaching specific goals.

Read: 9 Types of Motivation for the Workplace with Examples

The best managers can relate to a range of different employees and tailor their motivational techniques, so they all reach their potential.

7. Decision making

Decision-making is a huge part of management. Understanding the relevant information and making the best decision available is a fundamental skill all managers have to learn.

While the employees do the bulk of the work, the manager ultimately controls the team’s direction and how work is performed.

  • When issues occur during a project, how should the team respond?
  • During recruitment, who makes the final decision regarding new hires?
  • Planning learning and development activities, what should the team’s focus be?

These are just a few examples, but what makes a good manager is understanding the best option available to meet the team’s needs and reach the desired goals.

Many common mistakes rookie managers make can be traced back to poor decision-making. This could be the inability to make a decision at all for fear of the consequences, the inability to say no, or knowing when and how to take risks.

8. Adaptable

Managers who refuse to adapt hold their teams back in the fast-moving business world. Whether it is enhancing the positive to quickly seize new opportunities or mitigating the negative and changing to the new realities, adaptability is a must.

This could translate to how a manager motivates staff, incorporates new technology, pivots to a new strategy, or redesigns work plans and scheduling.

The best managers react to change quickly and effectively to ensure their team’s output remains competitive and up-to-date.

9. Supportive and trusting

Good managers support their staff and trust in their abilities. They stand up for their team and defend them to senior leadership.

They delegate tasks with confidence and never micromanage. They know putting faith in capable employees empowers them to further their ability and professional development.

10. Time management

Managers have many demands on their time and competing priorities to deal with.

  • HR needs to confirm payroll details
  • Leadership wants an update
  • A purchasing order requires authorization
  • A new problem requires a workaround
  • And much more

To keep track of everything and ensure the team is operating effectively requires impressive time management skills and the ability to delegate successfully. This means understanding the skill set of each team member and what they are capable of.

Managers can’t be everywhere at once. Instead, they have to understand what the best use of their time is and what can be handed off to others.

11. Focus on progress as well as results

Managers are responsible for reaching the goals set by leadership.

While this can produce a fixation on results and nothing else, the best managers understand the value of focusing on progress along the way.

12. Ability to cover day-to-day tasks

A manager who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty and do the same work they ask others to do engenders respect from their employees.

It shows they are one of the team and don’t consider themselves above their staff. Whether it is to cover staff absences, give the final push before a deadline, or just to help out when things aren’t going well, the ability to cover day-to-day tasks is a great asset for managers to have.

13. Develops staff

The collective workforce is made up of individuals who each have their own personal goals. Building a workforce into an effective team means understanding these individual goals and tailoring an approach to satisfy as many staff as possible while working towards the collective outcome.

This requires significant staff development plans to ensure team members that want to progress and learn new skills are satisfied. Good managers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees, developing programs that produce better, more well-rounded workers. Rather than worry about staff outgrowing their role, successful managers know creating the best employees’ possible benefits all involved.

14. Resilient

When things go wrong, mistakes occur, or external forces create challenging conditions, the best managers don’t scream, shout, or lose patience. Instead, they come straight back with new ideas and plans to get through them.

Resilient managers remain calm and productive through difficulties, and this mindset translates to their employees. However, resilience doesn’t mean being unaware of overwork effects. Knowing when to take a break or introduce activities to help the team relax is vital to getting through challenging periods.

15. Strategic thinking

Leading employees and being responsible for the direction of a team emphasizes the manager’s vision and strategic thinking. They require significant business knowledge and unique insights in order to find the best strategy for a given situation.

This means having a clear understanding of the task at hand, applying strong analytical skills based on the relevant information, and predicting the possible outcomes for various approaches to determine the optimum choice.

16. Receives feedback well

Nobody is perfect, and no manager makes the right decision 100% of the time. However, to grow and improve, a manager must be able to receive feedback well from both leadership and their employees.

Good managers foster creative work cultures where employees are free to push boundaries. This requires staff to be able to speak openly and honestly with their superiors without fear of repercussions.

As long as it is delivered appropriately, managers should be able to understand and act on the feedback they receive successfully.

17. Conflict management skills

Conflicts are a natural part of teamwork. Competing ideas, personality conflicts, and different workstyles coexisting all produce disagreement, and it is the manager’s job to overcome them through practical and proactive conflict management skills.

Managers must be quick to identify and act on potential conflicts, confronting them head-on and not allowing them to escalate.

18. Employee recognition

Recognizing outstanding work leads to employees reproducing excellent work. Employee recognition is a key tool at the manager’s disposal when chasing the results the company needs.

A paycheque is great, but employees often need additional personal recognition when they have gone above and beyond in their work.

Employee recognition boosts staff morale and is an essential generator of employee engagement. By showing how much they mean to the company through financial or public recognition, managers can align crucial and highly productive personnel with their objectives.

How to develop good managers and leaders

As you can see, there are many traits to develop when learning how to be a good manager. While new managers require innate abilities and natural talent for the role, many of these qualities can be strengthened via proper training and development.

With this in mind, companies need extensive leadership development plans to identify employees with the right skill set to become managers in the future.

Specific schemes for helping develop good managers could be:

  • Mentoring or coaching from individuals with leadership experience
  • Support schemes for first-time managers
  • Collaboration and communication channels between new managers (facilitate discussion such that staff can learn from one another)
  • Internal training programs
  • External training or education (investing in employees through management courses or degrees)