Managers Part 2 – The Good Guys

Guest Author: Susanne Skinner 

Last week both Aline and I weighed in on the Bad Manager profile. Now let’s talk about good managers. This is a more difficult profile since there are many different ways to qualify and quantify them. It is also very subjective. While a bad one is just, well…bad, a good one means different things to employees at different stages of their career.

First and foremost the individual has to be qualified to do the job. That in and of itself does not equal great, or even good – but it has to be part of the equation. Second, a genuine investment must be made in the people being managed. Just as a bad manager is the poster child for hubris, a good one practices humility and leads with a sense of humor.

Pride, humility, Ezra BensonArticles abound on Good Manager characteristics but one point that appears often enough to demand relevance is this: a good manager has the ability to align the organization around a clear and achievable vision. If you read last week’s blog you will know this cannot occur if the manager is blind. Without vision, there is no leadership and no opportunity for management.

I have been privileged to work with exceptional managers and mentors and it is an honor to recognize them by mentioning them here. To me, they exemplify what a good manager should be.

The Good Manager

Meet David. I did not appreciate what a good manager he was until many years and a few bad ones down the road. He was in his fifties and a director when I went to work for him; I was just beginning my career. David was exceptionally well qualified to do his job. This is a gift to anyone entering the business world. He was soft spoken and confident. He also instilled confidence in those he managed. David was not afraid to make decisions and more importantly he took ownership for them. He praised publically, chastised privately and never hesitated to give credit to those who earned it. He wanted me to be successful and provided the opportunities and education that helped me get there. Long after he stopped being my manager he was my friend and mentor. I had a lifelong respect for him and went to him many times over the years for his career advice and gentle wisdom. David passed away several years ago and the world lost one of the good guys. I miss him.

Many years later, and now in my fifties, I went to work for Aashu. We did not hire each other, we inherited each other. I had been through multiple management changes, survived two lay-offs and felt drained at the thought of yet another manager and another level set. Aashu became my fifth manager in three years. I had no idea what to expect but I can tell you what I got. I got a good manager.

At this stage of my career the basics were still important to me – he was qualified to do the job. He was fair minded, had high standards (which he imposed on all of us), strong ethics, and consciously worked to do the right things. He was gifted with a dry sense of humor, real intelligence, and the ability to listen.

I never knew him to avoid a difficult situation and I always knew where I stood with him. Like David, he acknowledged individual contributions publically and shared credit for big accomplishments with his staff. He believed in team building and knew how to build a team. Aashu liked Scotch and together we raised a few glasses of the good stuff together. I’d like to thank him for keeping the bar high for both of us.

My current manager is much younger than I am. They are all much younger than I am now. He is the first manager I’ve had who understands the planning and execution of an event at a detailed grass-roots level. We speak the same language. He likes balance and order. Each morning we have a huddle call to review our top five tasks. When the workload is heavier for one of us, it is easily rebalanced with help from the rest of the team. No deliverable runs the risk of being incomplete or done poorly. He has a great sense of humor and really likes what he does. We learn from each other.

Five Traits of a Good Manager

Hidden among the bland and repetitive writings on the qualities of good managers, this one caught my attention. Jacob Morgan, co-founder of Chess Media Group, singles out five essential traits of a good manager:

1. Follow from the Front: Remove roadblocks from the paths of employees in order to help them succeed. Employees used to work hard to allow their managers to succeed and now it’s the managers turn to make sure their employees succeed.

2. Understand Technology: This isn’t the same as technical expertise. This means having a good pulse of what is happening in the consumer web as well as understanding which social and collaborative technologies are making their way into the enterprise and what the implications of that are.

3. Lead by Example: Managers need to commit to more than just funding collaboration. They need to be the ones using the same tools that the rest of the employees are using. There is no way that employees can change and evolve (nor should they) unless they see their managers doing the same.

4. Embrace Vulnerability: Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity. There can be zero innovation without vulnerability. Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak. It’s about being courageous; a key quality that every manager must have. (This one is my personal favorite)

5. Sharing: Managers must share information and collective intelligence instead of hoarding it. Managers need to make sure that employees can connect to each other and to the information they need to get their jobs done, anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Managers now rely on employees to help make decisions instead of isolating them from this process.

Work is not the same as it was when we started on the merry go round. The qualities and characteristics of a good manager have had to adapt to the new world order of the work environment. Dramatic changes in technology, the way companies are structured and the dynamics of our professional and personal lives demand a new breed of manager. In order for that manager to be called good, he or she must be a practitioner of both humility and humor, for neither has gone out of fashion. It brings to mind the old call to lead, follow or get out of the way.

How we lead still sets a good manager apart and reminds us of what is important and what stands the test of time.

“A man can counterfeit love, he can counterfeit faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces, but it is very difficult to counterfeit humility.”

D. L. Moody