What does it take to be a great manager?

Oh boy, I can see where this is going. And no, I don’t consider myself great. Ok maybe a little, (jokes). You know when you do something every single day, day in day out, you think whether or not you’re any good at it.

I mean, I certainly do. Whenever I make a mistake or do a good job, get a compliment for doing a good job or get a remark for doing a shit job, I go in to analysis mode. Not analysis paralysis but just reflecting to see if i’m any good at what I do. Because if you have to tell how great you are, I got news for you, and that’s you ain’t that great.

Those who know me, already can see that the 30s are approaching as im writing about such things but, no that has nothing to do with that. At least I think it does not, hmm denial in full speed.

Alright, so why am I talking about what it take to be a great manager. I was reflecting back to all the managers I have had in the past and what managerial qualities are the ones that I loved and ones that stood out for me.

I read somewhere that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers and you know what, I agree that a manager can make or break you. Something that I quite often see is that a lot of the people in managerial positions tend to be great at what they do as individual contributors but just aren’t suited to be managers.

They need training, as well as mentors to help them grow in to the roles. I doubt and very seldom see any manager seeking help to manage people, I guess it’s an insulting notion, ha. But it’s one that helps everyone (well almost everyone) become a better manager and no, reading a book about management is not going to turn you into a good manager.

Truth is, management is hard. It’s ridiculously hard and it gets harder if you struggle to manage your team, especially if you don’t have the right training. I see so many bad managerial practices and frankly it pisses me off, because it destroys people’s will to want to work at a company that they actually are suited for and the company itself loses a great talent. It ruins opportunities and most importantly, it reflects badly towards the company.

So master yoda today will depart some golden nuggets to being a great manager. And solely from the perspective of what I have seen and liked, it’s not like i’m one of those great managers 😅, not yet at least. Everyone (?!) in my team “loves” me. haha. I’m regretting writing about this topic. I digress. Alright back to the topic.


Honesty is a cornerstone of any relationship, why would it be any different here, right?

You know it takes years building trust and just a split second to ruin it all. You have always got to be honest with your team. No sugar coating, plain, garden variety honesty. Period.

I cannot stress this enough. People will only listen to you, if they believe in you and believe you. Yes, they will still do their jobs but if you really want to tap in to the greatness of people, you have to be honest and you have to be honest every time.

That means, not just being honest when the narrative suits you. If you cannot share something with the team, just tell them the reason why. People always understand. You are working with adults, and adults can handle the truth, if you treat them as such.

Some of my greatest professional relationships built were built due to the fact that the people appreciated that I was and am always honest with them. Doesn’t matter how scary something is, be straight up with the team.

Nothing destroys culture more than being a devious, conniving manager. Remember if the team cannot trust you, they will never give you their 100%. How can you expect to lead if you cannot be honest with the very people you are suppose to manage.

People work with you, not for you

Yes. This isn’t some word spaghetti that I’m referring to. You actually have to mean it too. People work with you and not for you. We as a species have come a long way and evolved into what I would like to think we have: civilized beings.

You have to make sure that people understand and believe the fact that they are running with you to accomplish a task and not behind you. Where you get all the limelight and they are just some minions working in the lab.

No. That is a horrible practice. You know what grinds my gears? You see the CEOs getting their picture taken and printed at a magazine when they get funding and show or at least portray that they did it all alone. Nope. It wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work done by the people behind the scene.

Those folks deserve credit. And you can show that by doing these small things, because they matter. Making people realize and meaning it the fact that they work with you and not slaving away to a despot, is a great start.

I know some folks like things very formal and that’s fine. But, what you can do is be human with your team, remember if you have a team that trusts you, feels safe with you as well as respected, they will do everything they can to make sure that they deliver the targets set out by you.

And guess who benefits from all that? Both you as a manager and the team as a team. Treat people as people and not assets and you will go far in your managerial escapade.

Lay out clear expectations

I cannot stress this one enough. Look no matter how good your team is, they will need clear set of instructions on what is it that is expected of them. Blurring those lines causes a lot of issues, starting from folks not knowing what would be considered the fact that they are doing a good job as opposed to not.

You need to make sure that the expectations are clear for how the team needs to get the job done and that too well. That way there are no miscommunications. I’ve seen this time and time again, that managers struggle to draw a line of expectations and it almost always backfires because people don’t always know what would be considered not well done work.

The best option is to set up expectations early on, so it does not give way for bad habits to form in the first place. Of-course what you do need to make sure is that those expectations are realistic and resonate with the team.

Pro tip – listen to your team. Listen to their concerns and be willing to update the expectations, if the team is struggling as a whole. Expectations are not chiseled in stone and can be changed. Don’t be like me. Where you put everyone a pedestal, and you want them to give their 100% every single time. Humans don’t work that way. They have good days and bad days.

But, if if you layout the expectations well enough, the good days far outweigh the bad ones. Because the team knows exactly what they need to do in order to perform well.

Be open to feedback

This one goes out to all the first time managers out there. You have to be open to feedback from your team if you are planning to be a manager long term. Let alone an effective one.

You are not perfect. You will make mistakes. What you know about how a team is run or was run in a particular company might not be how it’s run in the current company you’re at. Be flexible, be open to feedback and most importantly act on the feedback and that too with speed.

The worst thing about this point is that managers are, well, humans and I have yet to meet someone who likes criticism or feedback that helps them grow. Yes yes I know, it’s all constructive feedback. Well, either way it hurts and it sucks ha. But it also helps us grow and gets us out of our comfort zone.

And if you’re not going to react to feedback positively from your team, you can kiss any future feedback goodbye. As the team will be hesitant to give any more feedback to you, they will be afraid of a repercussion.

This can tank the whole team culture. You chose this role, now you need to make sure you put yourself out there and do better as a manager. Accepting feedback from your team and taking it on the chest is one component of it.

Be empathetic

Until robots take our jobs, we gotta rely on people and people have emotions. You need to be empathetic to everyone. Look nothing annoys more than when people tell me, they feel my pain. No you don’t.

You’ve not been in my position, you do not know the battle that i’m fighting and frankly i’m not sure i want anybody at my workplace knowing anything personal about my life. I’m sure it’s the same for vast majority of us out there. So, as managers you always need to be empathetic to what people are going through in their lives.

Look my experience is, if you are empathetic, folks will not only trust you, they will pay you back with loyalty and hard work. Don’t pry information out, and don’t just be empathetic for the sake of it, be genuine about it. Care for the team, because they are the ones who make you look good in front of your boss.

You must care for and consider the well-being of your employees, pay interest. This means exhibiting empathy and emotional intelligence to ensure that your team is not burning out, or losing motivation to work, or have anxiety.

If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they are going through and support them. Very unlikely that the person will ever want to stop working with you. Simply being there for them will boost the chance of success for that person.

Yes, management is no walk in the park. But when done right, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your team working alongside with you and you having their respect.

Reward your team for a job well done (don’t skimp on money)

Some companies will do everything to penny pinch, which in some areas is fine but not when it comes to your talent. First off, you should always pay your team well. A well paid team is a motivated team.

Other than that, please note these down because I have seen this work really well. Reward your team with random things that are not money. For instance something I love doing, since my kids love steaks is that every now and then I offer to pay a meal for my team, all they need to do is have a steak with a +1 and foot me the bill.

No, this is not to show that i’m super generous. It’s about showing that you care about your team and you are rewarding them for a job well done. Your team will go the extra mile for you and not for a steak, but because they know that you take care of them.

So it doesn’t have to be a meal, it can be a movie ticket with popcorn and nachos or tickets to a football game or laser tag. I don’t know. You need to find out what your team loves and just make sure that they do an activity that gets them far away from work as possible and their laptops.

Reward them, so they can enjoy and decompress. These small gestures go a long way.

Give recognition

I think it’s kind of tied to the previous point I made. I struggle with this point a lot. I don’t like shout outs for a job well done, or people telling me I’m doing a great job. That part of me is not fully developed yet. I love finding out what I’m not doing right and fixing those things.

Turns out, people are not like that at all 😅 and i’m the abnormal one. Who’d a thunk it.

So, make an extra effort and not only reward good work but also recognize who is doing the work and give them shout outs, kudos. Whatever works, so the team members feel like they are being recognized for a job well done. There is no better feeling in life than seeing that your work is appreciated and that your manager is noticing.

I realized that far too late in my career. Don’t let your struggles and incapacitatedness (is that a word?) be a cause or a blocker for people working with you.

Don’t ping people on their vacations

I barely take time off and when I do, my slack is always on with the notifications. I took me over a decade to find out the damage this kind of behavior does to you. And it obviously does not help when your manager is pining you left and right on your vacation. Your anxiety will not let you rest and you cannot resist answering back. I mean it’s only a single message or email right?

Wrong. When you are off on vacation in my team. I want you gone. Delete slack, delete email, forget that work exists, shoooo, be gone. Enjoy your time off. Trust me, work will always be there when you come back, that time that you took off that you deserve to relax on, it won’t last forever. So make the most of it.

As a manager you should set those rules and let go of the urge to message people on their holidays about things that can wait. I heard some people say, well what if i forget? use tech for that. Slack has a schedule feature that can schedule the message to be sent to the person when they are back from the holidays.

Give people space. Give them time to enjoy, recharge their batteries, so they can come back stronger than ever. Without proper disconnect from work, the person neither enjoys the vacation nor the work. Instead it makes them more fatigued and makes them feel guilty. Not to mention it is taxing for their family members.

So don’t ping em on vacation. Please.

Always be there for your team

Ok, this brings us to the last point. I guess one of the most critical ones of being a manager. Always have your team’s back. Look, if someone in my team messes up, I will chew them out in private but I will always defend them in front of everyone else.

That team member should know that you have their back no matter what happens. That does not mean you sugarcoat the mistakes or don’t give them proper feedback and downplay something. No. It means that the person can always trust you to have their back.

They know that you will always give it to them straight and tell them where they stand or if they mess up, you offer to clean it up and help them to ensure that this does not happen again.

If you are one those managers that is waiting for your team mates to mess up, so you can give them shit. I got news for you, people working for will always be miserable.

I read somewhere about Steve Jobs that he was a genius and an absolute asshole of a manager. You know what, your genius doesn’t mean crap if you cannot be kind and just a decent human being to the people you work with. These are folks that give you their everything, the least you as a manager can do is give them due respect.

You know nowadays we talk a lot about feelings and emotions of people and that’s great. We as a species are a lot smarter now, both technologically as well as psychologically more advance than we ever were before. That’s progress. But at the very core our needs are very basic. One of them being the fact that we want to feel wanted and respected at the place of work. Appreciated for a job well done. I don’t think that will ever change.

If you as a manager can tap into some of the things written above and go above and beyond for your team. I promise you the results will be extraordinary. Not only will you avoid attrition, but most importantly you will gain respect of your team.

You do that. Sky is the limit for what you can do with your team. Culture does eat strategy for breakfast. And culture starts from top down.

Let’s get to work.


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