Looking for examples of how to be a good manager? We explore what makes a good manager by analyzing the good (and bad!) qualities of four great leaders.
What Makes a Good Manager?
What makes a good manager is what’s at the person’s core. Your character will drive who you are as a manager and how well you can lead. These are the things that great managers do:
- Communicate openly
- Offer fair treatment
- Invest in career growth
- Give constructive feedback
- Follow through on what they say
- Understand nonverbal communication
Each of these things is important that you shouldn’t overlook! But instead of checking off these behavioral tasks on your list, we take you deeper to dive into the character qualities of great managers. We also offer tips on how to change if you don’t like the person you’ve become.
If you’re reading this article, you want to be a better manager! Your desire for growth and being teachable is a great place to start in your quest to become the best manager possible.
5 Top Management Traits in a Good Manager
#1 They Don’t See Themselves as the Center.
Good managers possess more humility than arrogance. They understand the end goal is not their success but the team’s success.
#2 They Have a Strong Identity.
This is not only about confidence but also about being a genuinely good person. This may feel impossible in highly competitive work environments, but while challenging, it is possible. People with a strong identity can also be empathic; this is increasingly expected and valued in the workplace.
#3 They Are Visionaries.
Visionaries bring out the best in others because they can see the big picture. While other people may get bogged down in the details of the moment, visionaries hold their course with confidence.
#4 They are Both Flexible and Steadfast.
Leaders who can balance flexibility and steadfastness are more agile in crises. Whatever the work setting, there will be situations where a quick response is needed. On the other hand, being a leader means discerning when to be steadfast and not succumb to pressures from other people.
#5 They Are Creative Thinkers.
Creative thinking hasn’t always been welcome in the workplace, but more businesses realize what most entrepreneurs have always known – creative thinking drives innovation. Creative thinkers are willing to consider options that may appear illogical or controversial. They need to balance this with taking calculated risks.
Pop-Culture Examples of Leaders
Pop culture is rich with the good, the bad, and the ugly of leaders. We cringe just thinking about leaders like Darth Vader or Don Draper. They remind us that managers have a lot of responsibility and hold power for good or bad.
In contrast, the four leaders we’ve chosen to highlight below show us both good and bad. Each person provides intricate examples of how to become a better manager.
#1 Leading With Humility
The scenes in Lord of the Rings where Aragorn plunges into battle with unflinching courage are moving. Whether single-handedly fighting the Nazgul or fearlessly leading the Battle of Helm’s Deep, this is a leader who motivates others to follow.
Yet these aren’t the most important examples of Aragorn as a leader. He powerfully demonstrates his ability and right to lead in much smaller moments.
In this scene, Aragorn leads with humility. He sees the fear of one boy and, with empathy, takes the time to speak hope and courage into his heart.
Aragorn knows it’s a terrible sword, but he’s using the Pygmalion Effect to instill courage and strength. When you expect good things from your employees, you can do the same, creating a work culture of success.
Aragorn leads with humility:
- Defending those entrusted to him.
- Fighting on the frontline.
- Knows the battle isn’t about gaining his throne but defeating evil.
- Verbally gives courage to those around him.
You may never lead your people into battle against orcs, but there will undoubtedly be times when your teammates:
- Become discouraged.
- Lose sight of the bigger picture.
- Are unable to meet the task at hand.
- Don’t have the tools or skills they need.
When these situations occur, a good manager can lead with the knowledge they are responsible for encouraging and directing the team. Aragorn does this with a unique skill. He knows when to be gentle and supportive and even step back and let others lead. He doesn’t use strength to dominate or advance his cause. Instead, he sees the bigger picture.
Aragorn is just one person in the Fellowship, and he takes his place alongside the others. He both leads and walks beside, developing his leadership skills for the good of others, not just himself. This is a winning combination when found in leaders.
Believe in your employees, and communicate that verbally. Set a reminder each week to check in with your employees and thank them for something specific.
Instead of saying “I appreciate you.” try saying things like:
- “I appreciate that you always take the initiative on projects.”
- “I know this has been a big project, but you have handled it with skill and clarity.”
- “You have such a way of encouraging others on the team. I appreciate that you are helping us build a healthy company culture.”
- “I appreciate that you see the big picture in meetings.”
- Your ability to stay calm with our latest client is admirable. I appreciate how you demonstrated professionalism in a difficult situation.”
Look for ways to be supportive when needed, and discern when to let others lead. Do you have employees who doubt themselves? Build them up with authentic praise, and point out where they succeed. Give them opportunities to take the lead. Or does your organization have conflict across departments? Stand up for your coworkers if other departments try to cut them down.
Walk beside your teammates. Do you see your employees as tools to get the job done or see them as individuals who are valuable members of the team? As a good manager, your first responsibility is for the success of the group, not your success.
Walking beside your team means being present.
- Show up to meetings.
- Don’t cancel at the last minute.
- Be aware of what is happening with projects.
- Be available – you respond to communication in a timely fashion.
- You work alongside them instead of being physically and emotionally distant.
#2 Lifting Other Leaders
Great leaders are never satisfied with simply leading. They lift others, looking to the future and drawing forth leadership qualities in their coworkers.
Queen Ramonda in Black Panther did precisely that when she recognized the strategic timing for T’Challa to take the throne. She pushed him forward even when he doubted himself.
That’s great for a superhero movie, but isn’t it threatening in real life?
Queen Ramonda didn’t feel threatened because she was secure in her identity and leadership ability. She looked at the situation with a vision for the future, secure in her position. She knew what life destined her for, but she also saw the potential for others to step into leadership. She shared her wisdom and confidently advised others so they could find their path.
Queen Ramonda shows us great leaders stand with confidence, looking strategically to the future. It’s the same for any good manager. When you know who you are, you can lift others without feeling threatened.
On a side note, T’Challa is a great example of becoming a leader. Great leaders aren’t born. They become significant as they make decisions about who they want to be. T’Challa makes decisions in a forced manner, even when he feels unfit. His decisions, especially those made towards the movie’s end, go against what others expected of him. Yet all of his choices center around the core of who he is – a good man.
Both Queen Ramonda and King T’Chaka mentored T’Challa. An essential character quality of a strong leader is to offer their expertise to others generously.
Action Steps: Knowledge and wisdom are meant to be shared. If you hold tightly to your knowledge, it’s time to open your hands and empower others.
Learn the skill of confidence. If you aren’t confident and secure in yourself, you will find it difficult to lift others. Vanessa shares how to use body language to look and feel more confident. She also tells you what body language sabotages your self-confidence and communicates a negative impression to others.
Lead by lifting.
- Give your teammates leadership responsibilities they may be nervous about taking.
- If you see that one of your workers has leadership qualities, invest time coaching and mentoring them.
- Put a recurring meeting on the calendar so that you spend dedicated time mentoring them.
- Tell them you believe they have the potential to lead, and ask them what you can do to support them.
- Let them know you are open to answering questions (but only if you are!).
#3 Assertive Boss or Bully?
Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada, is one of those incredible bosses that gets what she wants and pushes forward without hesitation. She is also a mix of all the worst qualities in a leader. That’s why we all love to hate her.
Without ever raising her voice, and sometimes without even speaking, Miranda communicates what she expects and accepts nothing less. Her obsession with perfection makes her successful, but it is ultimately undoing.
Miranda is clear and decisive. As a woman, her assertiveness is certainly less acceptable to society than her male counterparts. That aside, she makes the mistake of not balancing these excellent management skills with a bit of humanity. She takes assertiveness too far, bullying everyone in her path. Ultimately, Miranda brings out the worst in others as she accomplishes her goals by cutting others down.
We can’t help but love how she gets her point across without ever raising her voice, but the way she accomplishes this is at a high cost to others. Take a tip from Miranda by being assertive, but don’t emulate her caustic remarks and dismissive behavior.
Find your vocal power.
1. Find your maximum resonance point for vocal power with this YouTube tutorial.
2. Practice with vocal warm-ups before meetings and presentations.
3. Speak with confidence. This includes what you wear, posture, and how fast you speak.
Develop your sense of self. The APA defines a sense of self as “an individual’s feeling of identity, uniqueness, and self-direction.” To start developing your sense of self, write down the qualities and characteristics that define you. Use this list of positive attributes from Berkeley Wellbeing to get you started. You can also ask someone close to you to help you find the character qualities that best match who you are.
Look for your strengths and even your likes and dislikes. Not knowing what you want often results in a passive or aggressive leadership style. As you better understand who you are, it will help you be assertive without being aggressive.
Need some extra help with this? There is no shame in seeking a therapist who can help you work through this step.
#4 Creative Thinker or King of Humbug?
In The Greatest Showman, Barnum captures our attention with his creative solutions and drive for success. He always sees the bigger picture, even though it’s unpopular and initially unsuccessful. As an entrepreneur, he constantly reassesses his strategy and employs creative thinking. In the face of opposition, Barnum gathers a group of people who he leads with vision and passion.
Until he doesn’t.
As a leader, Barnum shows us that people who are driven to succeed, mainly because of earlier traumas or hardships, can quickly lose sight of what they were working for in the first place—especially if they have deep-rooted feelings of inferiority and desperation for more.
In this scene, Barnum has come face to face with his failures as a leader, a husband, and a father. This fictional* story of leadership inspires us because redemption follows loss. Instead of giving up entirely, we watch him process and acknowledge his failure.
Barnum is steadfast when needed but also flexible, picking up the ashes and starting all over when it seems like everything is lost. Take a lesson from Barnum in his innovation and tenacity. Just don’t follow his example of disloyalty, lying, or rationalizing unethical behavior.
Are you driven by past experiences or perceived failures? While we can use negative experiences as a motivator to success, if you haven’t experienced resolution or been able to let go, they could hurt how you lead.
Acknowledge your mistakes. When you make mistakes, don’t cover them or explain them away. Where needed, take accountability for your actions. Then look at failure and mistakes as an opportunity to grow and become a better leader.
- Think of a past major failure or even a tiny mistake.
- Write down what you could have done differently.
- If you feel the need to defend yourself or excuse your actions, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself whether you need to make amends in any way.
- If you feel the need to atone and make up for the mistake, ask yourself if there is anything you legitimately need to do to make it right. If not, let go of this critical self-judgment.
- Then release that experience and accept it as a lesson for the future.
Remember, you’re a team. One of the big mistakes that led to Barnum’s downfall was shutting out his team. Literally. Hopefully, you’ve never shut the door in anyone’s face, but you may have shut them out in ways just as offensive or hurtful as a door in the face. Your team members intuitively sense if you respect them or not. They will also feel like you’re constantly keeping them in the dark or gatekeeping information.
- When it’s appropriate, include the team in decision-making and essential tasks.
- Look for tasks that you could delegate to someone else.
- Provide important information at meetings.
- Avoid micromanaging.
Think creatively. This is Barnum’s greatest strength and one that leaders often overlook. Barnum looks for inspiration everywhere and even gets ideas from his young daughters. Be open to collaboration and develop a mindset where you are always looking for fresh ideas and solutions. Tap into the Medici Effect by dialoguing with people from diverse perspectives; don’t miss out on gathering ideas from people you disagree with.
*Even though this movie was real P.T. Barnum-based, it is highly fictionalized. The conclusions here on leadership are based entirely on the movie adaptation, not on the real P.T. Barnum.
You Can Be a Great Leader
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
You have the opportunity to affect change as people look to you for leadership. Hold on to your willingness to learn, and never forget that great leaders are, first, good people.
Ready for the next step? People School will help you identify areas in your personality and communication style that could use improvement so you can be a great manager.
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