Some say that great leaders are born, not made.
Others say that saying is dumb. Personally, I’m in the second camp.
I mean sure, there are certain characteristics that some people just seem like they come into this world possessing. And yes, there are times when these inborn abilities may offer an advantage in circumstances associated with leadership. But when we talk about natural leaders, we’re not usually discussing some sort of divine gift or Wunderkind situation. In most cases, the best leaders are those who, through experience, study, and self-improvement, have come to understand how best to direct and motivate their peers. This is probably why 83% of organizations agree that leadership development on all levels is essential.
In other words, good leadership qualities can be learned.
Provided you know which qualities to focus on.
Yep! In case the title didn’t tip you off, we’re doing a list article! So sit back while we investigate the top-ten qualities of a good manager. These are the characteristics you should be cultivating as you guide your people toward success.
10 Qualities of a Good Manager
What makes a good leader? It takes more than synergy (whatever that is). If you want to improve the effectiveness of your management style, consider developing these traits of good leadership.
Let’s start with an obvious one. The primary responsibility of leadership is to lead, and that means knowing how to disseminate information efficiently and in a way that employees can understand. But communication is a door that swings both ways; it demands finely tuned listening skills as well as the ability to make oneself heard. Understanding employee needs, being willing to address conflict and other negative situations, and acting as a communication go-between for employees and executives lets everyone know that you are invested enough in their success to connect with them.
When communication is prioritized it promotes employee engagement, retention, and overall workplace culture. Unfortunately, 86% of employees cite lack of communication as a reason for workplace failures, so this is also one area where a lot of leaders could stand to improve.
Going hand in hand with communication, one of the primary qualities of a good manager is a willingness to be transparent. It should go without saying, but your employees are on your team; they need to know the current situation, what decisions are being made, what the strategy behind those decisions is, and how it all stands to affect them. Eighty percent of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their company. More than that, management transparency has been identified as a top determining factor in employee satisfaction.
Why? Because lack of transparency breeds uncertainty and uncertainty leads to stress. And stress sucks. So, be open about what’s happening behind the scenes and bring your employees into your confidence. Otherwise, they may feel as though no news is bad news.
Harvard Business Review recently published an article titled Good Leadership? It All Starts With Trust. Granted, you could probably plug any attributes of a leader into that headline (ex: Good Leadership? It all Starts with Communication), but that doesn’t mean that trust isn’t super important. Trust is having faith in your employees to do the jobs you hired them for. Micromanaging, on the other hand, tells your workforce that you have no confidence in them. And guess what? If employees see that you don’t trust them to function on their own, they’ll only function when you’re holding their hand.
Alternatively, empirical data suggest that employees in high-trust work environments are76% more engaged than those in low-trust environments. And, tying back to the point about transparency, managers who are known for being open and who communicate regularly and effectively inspire trust in those who work under them. This becomes essential during times of disruption when employees may need to follow directions quickly and take it on faith that their managers have their best interests at heart.
A popular way to visualize company leadership structure is to picture a wide base of employees with the managers and leaders sitting further up the pyramid. But in many ways, this should be flipped. Leaders need to provide a strong foundation of support for their people. Employees depend on their managers for direction, advice, and encouragement. This means that top leaders must be reliable. Otherwise, their workers aren’t going to feel like they can lean on them when they need to.
Can you quantify reliability? Who knows. Maybe. What you can do is survey, and surveys say that managers who are seen as reliable are 15x more likely to succeed.
The choices you make as a leader will have a direct impact on the future of your company and the lives of your employees. No pressure, right? But where this becomes really difficult is in having enough confidence in your own abilities to select the best course of action and stick with it. This means being able to effectively weigh your options, consider multiple viewpoints, and defend your reasoning in the face of opposing ideas. It’s also vital to recognize the validity of other ideas and to be willing to revise your plans when faced with insightful contradictory arguments.
But once you’ve looked at the problem from every relevant angle and determined exactly how your team should proceed, you need to act decisively. Don’t fall into the traps of choice paralysis or flip-flopping. Be a beacon of affirmation, and your employees will be much more confident in following your lead.
Assertiveness is one of the most admirable qualities of a good manager, but it needs to be tempered with open-mindedness. Simply put, there’s a reason why the best leaders surround themselves with the best people. They recognize that success isn’t about ego and it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about finding the solution that works. And often, finding that solution means being open to other viewpoints, ideas, or even healthy criticisms.
This advice is easy to say and easier to agree with, but for many managers, it’s not always easy to follow. Some leaders fall into the trap of believing because they are in a position of command, they need to have all of the answers. Others might fear that if they allow opposing voices to influence them then they are somehow demonstrating indecisiveness. But effective decision-making has nothing to do with being obstinate. Managers who are acceptant of good ideas — regardless of where they come from — can then take decisive action based upon the most complete information.
There are a lot of examples of celebrated hard-nosed bosses who “tell it like it is” and aren’t afraid to “make waves.” But while the likes of Elon Musk may generate popular interest by taking a severe approach to leadership, those who work under them are often looking for a way out. People don’t like working in negative environments. And while fear of consequences can motivate employees to work harder in the short run, it’s ultimately going to lead to disengagement and turnover.
Remember what your kindergarten teacher told you: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. This doesn’t mean shying away from problems that need to be resolved — honesty and transparency, after all, clearly have a place on this list. What it does mean is focusing more heavily on the positive. Employees of managers who focus on employee strengths are 67% more likely to be engaged than those who work under managers who focus on weaknesses.
Businesses are made up of people, and people are extremely emotionally complex. Hey, we’re the only sapient life in the known universe — it just comes with the territory. As such, emotional intelligence ranks high among the most-valuable attributes of a leader. The ability to be aware of and relate to team members and consider their thoughts, emotions, or experiences allows you to see new and essential perspectives. But even more than that, it’s a demonstration of respect, an acknowledgment that your employees’ emotions are valid. After all, goals are important, but not at the cost of people.
Does that sound a little too touchy-feely for the cutthroat world of business? Not to us (employee wellness is about more than just physical fitness, you know), and apparently not to a diverse cross-section of employees, HR professionals, and executives: A 2022 report by Businessolver found that 70% of employees and HR teams believe that empathetic organizations drive higher employee motivation, and 69% of CEOs believe that building empathy in the workplace is an important aspect of their job.
Do we really even need to explain this one? Maybe we do, because in a survey of 303 executives, 56% admitted to having a favorite candidate when considering internal promotions, and 96% of that group would be willing to promote those favorites without considering other important qualifications. Favoritism is a natural inclination — we want to help those with whom we feel the greatest connection — but it’s just not good business.
As the leader of your team, you need to be fully invested in the success of every member. This means providing equal treatment, offering impartial development opportunities, and mediating conflicts without regard to which participant you’d rather hang out with at a company function. Besides, the bottom line doesn’t care who your friends are; if you want to reach your business goals, you need to make sure that you’re hiring, promoting, and rewarding based on ability.
10. Development mindedness
As our final item on this list, a manager should be fully devoted to the improvement, development, and advancement of their employees. This one can be tricky. After all, if you help your people expand their skill sets, they might end up outgrowing the opportunities provided on your team. But that’s the beauty of it all! You’re playing a vital role in their professional development, and as they move up within the company (or even follow opportunities in other areas), they will carry with them the positive experiences they had working under your guidance.
Why does that matter? Well, there’s something to be said for brand reputation — when word gets out that you help employees improve their employability then you’ll hire faster and attract more dedicated talent. And overall, a culture of development will help curb turnover and improve employee satisfaction across the board. In fact, a 2021 report by Glint identified opportunities to learn and grow as the strongest drivers of great work culture.
Besides, 57% of U.S. workers want to update their skills and 48% would consider switching jobs to do it. To put it bluntly, if you don’t provide development opportunities, your best people will find someplace that does.
Employees are the heart of your company, but management is the backbone, providing structure, support, and strength in times of difficulty. Top-quality managers are also the most visible representation of the company itself, giving them the greatest responsibility in establishing a positive relationship between the brand and its workforce. Cultivating the qualities of a good manager is the first step in bridging that gap and creating a team that can help your organization grow.
Great leaders aren’t born; they’re made. Develop the right leadership characteristics, and you’ll always have the resources you need to take your people further.
Interested in helping your team be all it can be? Talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist today!
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.