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Meeting the needs of direct reports and leaders, prioritizing heavy workloads, managing employee conflicts, and motivating teams are all in a day’s work for managers. With all that’s on your plate, a persistent question is how to be a good manager and juggle all the logistics while trying to be an effective leader.
You have an essential job. Managers affect employees’ happiness, productivity, and organizations’ overall success. Studies show that managers determine 70 percent of employee engagement, and nearly 70 percent of the workforce say their manager affects their mental health more than their therapist or doctors. Understanding how to be a good leader and manager can help you maximize your employees’ potential and well-being while boosting your effectiveness at work.
What makes a great manager? The answer depends who you ask, but there are some core principles of good management that most experts agree on.
Getting to know your employees builds trust and open communication, which can minimize missteps and confusion. You don’t need to be your employees’ best friend, but a holistic view of their world helps you understand their priorities, personalities, and interests. This helps you delegate work better and also makes them feel seen and valued as people. If they’re comfortable sharing, ask them about:
Your management style can have effects throughout the organization, from employee retention to company profitability. It’s worth taking time to evaluate your approach and whether it’s effective based on what you know about your team’s strengths, work style, priorities, and personality. Skilled managers typically have a core management style, but are able to draw on aspects of other styles depending on the situation, individual, or team. For instance, an authoritative management style can be useful during big changes where teams need their leaders to provide structure and direction. A delegative or laissez-faire management style may be more appropriate for experienced teams that are able to work independently.
Regular check-ins keep team members motivated and engaged. In one study, 70 percent of employees said they’d like more daily or weekly contact with their managers. This doesn’t mean you need to hold lengthy meetings with every employee each week. A brief meeting to go over project status, ensure you’re aligned on high-priority responsibilities, and answer questions should suffice. Regular meetings are especially important in remote and hybrid work environments where there’s less contact and structure than an office setting.
You set the tone for how work gets done on your team, and a “Do as I say, not as I do” approach doesn’t work. If there’s a disconnect between what you’re asking of your employees and what you’re doing, you’ll come across as disingenuous. Ask yourself what makes a good manager in your opinion and the types of qualities and practices you’d like to see in your employees. Make sure you’re doing those things yourself. Some examples of effective modeling behaviors may include:
Psychological safety plays a critical role in employee performance and is linked to productivity, high-performing teams, and employee engagement. Yet Lyra Health’s 2023 State of Workforce Mental Health Report found that 40 percent of employees either don’t believe or question whether their leaders promote a psychologically safe workplace.
Psychological safety helps employees feel that they can take risks, share ideas, and make mistakes without being ridiculed, shamed, or punished. Part of psychological safety is also creating an inclusive workplace where employees of all races, genders, and backgrounds feel respected and open to share all aspects of their identity.
Whereas ambiguity over expectations, timelines, and desired outcomes can feel frustrating to workers, clear communication helps teams stay focused and productive. When assigning work, make sure employees know the expected outcome, other players, points of contact, and timeline for the project. Consider setting goals using the SMART framework (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound). A “painting done” approach can also help employees understand your expectations. Dr. Brené Brown explains this concept in her book Dare to Lead, where you walk through what the completed task will look like, including the how, what, whys, and whens, and prompt them to ask clarifying questions before they start.
Giving regular feedback helps employees feel like their work is meaningful and promotes professional growth. When providing feedback, be sure to point out strengths and “what’s working” instead of dwelling on mistakes or poor performance. Only hearing about what’s wrong can feel disempowering and lead to learned helplessness—the feeling that no matter what you do, you can’t make a change or get it right, so why even try. Research shows that employees who believe their managers focus on their strengths are more engaged than those who think their manager focuses on mistakes and weaknesses.
A report by LinkedIn found that 94 percent of workers would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional development. Another survey by The Conference Board shows that 96 percent of employees want to build their skills at work and 58 percent would quit a job that didn’t offer professional development. The same survey found that people of color reported fewer opportunities for professional development than white workers. To attract talent, retain employees, and ensure a diverse workforce, it’s important to offer training and learning opportunities that show your employees you’re invested in advancing their skills and career.
Even the most effective managers can benefit from training. There’s always room for growth and learning that will help your team be more effective and satisfied at work. Unfortunately, management training is still catching up with the need for this type of learning, especially when it comes to supporting mental well-being in the workforce.
According to Lyra’s State of Workforce Mental Health report:
It’s hard to prioritize self-care when you’re shouldering so much responsibility, and many managers struggle with work-life balance. In fact, some research shows that mid-level managers have the highest levels of burnout and stress. Poor self-care can lead to challenges that hinder being an effective manager, like:
You can’t manage your team effectively if you’re running on empty. Sometimes we think we don’t have time for exercise, sleep, activities we enjoy, and other types of self-care, but the truth is that taking care of yourself can make your work hours more productive. Instead of reading the same email repeatedly or having to go back and correct mistakes due to poor concentration, you’re more likely to get it right the first time. This can feel more difficult to do if your company leaves managers to their own devices. That’s why it’s critical for organizations to provide support and resources that empower managers to care for themselves so they can show up in the best way possible for their teams.
An easy way to think about how to be a good manager is to consider what qualities you like in people who manage you. If you’re like most people, you prefer to be treated with respect and consideration. You want to be valued and trusted, and to feel safe to express ideas and ask questions.
So, what makes a great manager? Here are a few key characteristics:
“Human leadership” has been dubbed the next evolution of people management. Research suggests that managers who are empathetic, authentic, and adaptable may have more engaged teams, experience less turnover, and boost employee well-being. One survey found that over 75 percent of people felt more engaged at work when they had an empathetic boss, compared to only 32 percent who viewed their boss as unempathetic.
Learning how to be a better manager can include putting yourself in your employees’ shoes by:
Positivity doesn’t mean you need to sugar-coat everything or that you can never have a bad day. It means you don’t dwell on the negative, you focus on what’s within your control, and you keep things moving forward in a respectful, professional, and empathic way.
One study even found that positive management practices (PMP) led to greater profitability and employee satisfaction. PMP centers on six characteristics:
Employees want to feel like their manager knows what they’re doing and how to do it. Research suggests that a manager’s self-esteem and confidence around a specific situation or task is critical to good management and influencing employees to strengthen their own confidence on tasks that boost job performance. Another study found that after managers took a course on confidence in leadership roles, their team perceived them as calmer and more open to giving and receiving feedback and engaging in discussions. Team members also trusted their leaders more and vice versa.
Research shows that 75 percent of employees believe collaboration is very important and 86 percent cite poor collaboration and communication as reasons for failures in the workplace. Most employees want to feel like they have a voice and a stake in their organization’s success. In a collaborative work environment, managers welcome ideas and thoughts from their team and draw from them in making decisions.
When workers feel their managers aren’t transparent, it leaves a lot of room for worrying and trying to “fill in the blanks,” which can zap productivity. Some research finds that when organizations are honest, informative, and open with employees, their company is also more innovative and productive.
Some key aspects of what makes a good manager include reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness. These qualities foster respect and honest communication from your team. Feeling like their leader lacks integrity can breed anxiety over job security and cause your team to question your reasoning behind decisions. One study found that when workers believe leadership has behavioral integrity they performed better on tasks and believed that they had more job autonomy.
Curiosity is another important part of how to be a good manager. Asking questions and being inquisitive with your employees shows that you value them. It also develops their problem-solving skills. Curiosity can work on an interpersonal or work-related level. Simply asking a team member about something they mentioned doing the previous weekend can build rapport and show that you care about them as a person. When an employee comes to you with a problem, asking them questions about ways to get to a possible solution instead of just telling them what to do can build their confidence as well as open up an opportunity for innovation.
Always looking ahead and devising ideas to develop your team’s skills is good for your employees and for business. Your team will feel like you’re invested in their professional development and care about their future, which can foster trust and loyalty. Keeping up with new tools and business trends that modernize and improve work keeps your team and organization moving forward.
There are lots of ways to be a good manager. Not all managers have the same qualities or approaches, but the goal is to keep growing and improving. Luckily, learning how to be a good boss is possible with the right training and tools.