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Natalia Rossingol

What Makes a Good Manager: 5 Essential Qualities

Good managers have five qualities in common that are shaping the present and the future of work. Here's where to upskill.

It's fair to say that in an organization, a manager is a central figure. Managers set the tone for the whole group, coordinating the efforts of team members and rallying them around the common goal. But what qualities does this person need to have? Are there any traits that can help managers do their job better?

We’ve studied various materials and crystallized the most valuable ideas expressed by several subject-matter experts. In this article, you can read about the main managerial qualities and how to develop them.

Qualities of a good manager

The ability to empower your team and position people for success

Team empowerment refers to positive job experiences like commitment to the company, professional satisfaction, employee engagement, and task performance. According to Karen Plum, the Director of Research and Development at AWA, empowerment cannot be given to us – it’s rather a feeling that comes from within, nourished in an appropriate environment. She explains that empowerment is about having control over our work and that it’s linked to the four dimensions:

  1. Meaning – the value behind what we do.
  2. Competence – our capability to do our job.
  3. Self-determination – the choice to act the way you consider right.
  4. Impact – our influence on the rest of the team and the work outcome.    

The impact of empowerment on teams’ productivity has been proven. In a research conducted by Joseph Folkman, which involved more than 7,000 people, only 24% of least empowered employees were rated as engaged, while for most empowered employees, the number was 79%.

 So how do great managers empower their employees? There are two main things that can create a sense of empowerment in a team, and these are psychological safety and the ability to work autonomously, provided by self-management.

1. Psychological safety

Amy C. Edmondson, the Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety as “a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves.” This is an environment where you can share concerns and be vulnerable without fear.

In her book “The Fearless Organization,” Edmondson explains that not only does psychological safety make a company a better place for employees (after all, it’s easier to work if you’re not stressed all the time,) but it also fosters innovation and growth, as people are not afraid to make suggestions and express ideas. Besides, psychological safety reduces the risk of error because employees feel free to question decisions made by leaders who might lack the competence or the knowledge of the situational context.  

When a work environment has reasonably high psychological safety, good things happen: mistakes are reported quickly so that prompt corrective action can be taken; seamless coordination across groups or departments is enabled, and potentially game-changing ideas for innovation are shared. – Amy C. Edmondson

But what can you as a leader do to develop a culture of psychological safety in your workplace? Let’s take a look at the advice of Kelly Lockwood Primus, a Chief Executive Officer at Leading NOW:

  1. Be open with your employees. Make sure they perceive you as a friend, not as an opponent.
  2. Practice empathy. Best managers treat their workers as human beings who have their personal lives and try to understand their point of view. Empathetic leadership requires you to be authentic, flexible, and have emotional intelligence – and even though it may be hard, it will definitely pay off.
  3. Assume positive intent behind the actions of your team.
  4. Ask for constructive feedback. Let your team members share their thoughts on what’s going on in the workplace, and express ideas on how to improve it.

2. Self-management

A short disclaimer: this model may be too challenging to be implemented right away. However, you may try using it partially, to see if it works in your particular case, because it can really make a difference.

In the organizational context, the term “self-management” is self-explanatory. Teams that are self-managed work without the supervision of a manager. In self-management, teams take full charge of their projects, controlling both organizational and administrative issues like planning and hiring, and actual work processes that concern the creation of products or services.

The ability to manage your own work, develop your decision-making skills, and directly influence the final result is truly empowering. It gives an individual an opportunity to grow professionally through exchanging experience with peers and taking risks, and simply makes you feel more important.

Self-management creates enormous motivation and energy. We stop working for a boss and start working to meet our inner standards, which tend to be much higher and more demanding. – Frederick Laloux, “Reinventing Organizations”.

Implementing self-management in your team does not necessarily mean you as a manager have to leave. After all, you can just change your management style, taking the laissez-faire approach – in other words, not directly managing your team but being there for them when they need you.  


In a fast-changing environment, adaptability is one of the most fundamental management skills. A failure to notice upcoming changes or pretending that nothing is going on is simply dangerous, as you risk falling behind or losing your business altogether. Being adaptable, on the contrary, lets you stay competitive.

Adaptability can be manifested in different ways:

  • Adapting to a new work mode. This concerns the necessity to change the conditions you work at, shifting to a different mode of work, like online or hybrid. The best illustration of this was Covid-19 pandemic, when in order to survive companies had to start working online. This trend, eventually, stayed with us – people realized it’s convenient and cost-efficient to work from home.
  • Adapting to new technologies. Technological progress is never-ending. You may need to use new technologies to manufacture your products, or new software programs to organize your administration process - in any case, be ready to accept the new technilogical reality.     
  • Adapting to new solutions. Sometimes old methods don’t work, and you have to look for something new. This means thinking out of the box and taking risks. It’s not comfortable, but it could be the only way out for your company.
  • Adapting to the change of priorities. New solutions may require new priorities. And new priorities mean you will have to allocate resources in a different manner, reassign people and tasks, and shift your focus. 
  • Adapting to a new structure. You may notice that your departments do not work the way they should. In this case, your company may need some restructuring that would improve productivity. This also includes such risky steps as mergers or acquisitions.

 Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come. – Dr. Spencer Johnson, “Who Moved My Cheese?”

Adaptability as a skill is crucial for change management – the process of planning and implementing new procedures and operations in a company. There are several change management models that can help leaders handle change. Let’s shortly describe the theory developed by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, which consists of 4 principles and 8 steps:

4 principles of change management

  1. Select few + diverse many: Decisions are typically made by a small group of leaders. These are “selected few.” However, in times of change, this approach is not appropriate and even dangerous. Firstly, it’s unfair to make decisions without asking for the opinion of those whom it will affect, and the change affects everyone in the company. Secondly, employees of the lower levels are closer to processes and customers and may know better what exactly needs to be changed. These employees are “diverse many.”
  2. Have to + want to: When “diverse many” are involved in the change process, they actually feel like they want to do it, not just have to.
  3. Head + heart: This is about what you appeal to when implementing change. While “the head” appeals to logic, the “heart” appeals to emotions. A leader must provide reasons that would support both.
  4. Management + leadership: Managers are in charge of the organizational and administrative parts of the project, while leaders formulate a vision and inspire employees to move forward. You need to manifest both management and leadership.

In addition to these principles, the Kotter model also includes the 8 steps, about which you can read here.

In the past, Change Management was traditionally seen as an isolated project, auctioned only when change is needed. Now, more than ever, it is important that businesses embrace change as part of their DNA, utilizing the different models available to implement all kinds of change, not just large organizational ones. - Johnny Warström, a CEO and co-founder of Mentimeter

Good communication skills

In the workplace, communication is more than exchanging information – it’s about making sure that the receiver gets the meaning. Most successful managers understand that effective communication is crucially important – it enhances collaboration and employee retention, reduces workplace conflict, and helps teams reach their goals faster.

Unfortunately, many organizations experience communication problems. According to the 2022 Gallup report, only 13% out of the 31 employees interviewed stated their leadership practiced effective communication. A report from SkyNova, an invoicing software company, revealed that lack of communication is the reason why people quit 27% of the time.     

In his book “Making Things Happen,” Scott Berkun explains why communication breaks down, providing several reasons. One of them is an assumption – the idea that we know something, even though we don’t (or, on the contrary, the belief that someone has understood us, when in fact we are not sure.) Another reason is not listening, being concentrated on your own argument or simply not paying attention. Communication can also be hindered by things like personal attacks, ridicule, and blame, which shift the focus from work to the person.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright

This way, it may be really hard to communicate effectively. However, if you see you’ve got problems with communication, this situation can be changed. Here’s a list of tips you can use to improve your communication skills:

  1. Be an active listener. Listen more than you speak. Pretending that you’re listening is not enough. Pay attention to what is being said. Try to understand the arguments and reasons for a particular action or behavior. Give feedback to let the other person know you’ve heard them.
  2. Be clear. Set clear expectations and communicate goals. Avoid excessive eloquence and make your statements short and concise. Let people ask questions to double-check.
  3. Be open-minded. Stay approachable so that each team member feels comfortable coming to you and telling you about their concerns. This way, you’ll be aware of the things happening in your team.
  4. Schedule regular team meetings. For meetings to be productive, sort them by their purpose. Is it a decision meeting, an information one, or a meeting gathered to recognize someone’s achievements?
  5. Establish norms of communication. Use different tools to communicate – phone, email, instant messengers, or online platforms. It’s important to make sure everyone can reach a person they need to talk to.


Honesty is the key to healthy relationships, and thus an important quality of good managers. By being honest, you create an environment of trust, which is incredibly important for successful collaboration. 

But what does it mean to be honest? In the first place, it means being vulnerable. In the workplace, the rule of thumb is to be strong, or at least pretend to be so. It feels shameful to show your true emotions because this might be interpreted as weakness. It’s especially true for leaders. However, people are not machines – they have feelings and make mistakes. 

This is why, according to Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, being vulnerable means being courageous – because you have to get over your fear of being ridiculed. But it’s worth it, as it gives you a chance to become authentic yourself and inspire others by your own example.

To illustrate what it means to be vulnerable, in her book "Dare to Lead," Brown describes armored (fearful) leadership against daring (vulnerable) one:

  • While armored leadership grows on cynicism and sarcasm, daring leadership is based on kindness and empathy.
  • While armored leaders do not celebrate small wins, daring ones use every opportunity to let you know how much they value you.
  • While armored leaders tell you that you can either win or lose, survive or die, vulnerable leaders focus on integrity.

Letting yourself be human, in the first place, admit your mistakes, and let others make theirs can help you build a trusting workplace and become an effective leader.   

Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior. – Brene Brown, “Dare to Lead”


At the same time, even though honesty has a great impact on interpersonal relationships among coworkers, to drive progress, honesty is not enough. To achieve actual results, you need candor – the ability to openly say something is wrong and needs to be taken care of. Candor isn’t aimed at hurting anyone’s feelings – its purpose is to help people correct their mistakes and eventually succeed.

Kim Scott, the author of “Radical Candor,” explains there are main types of behavior a manager demonstrates:

  1. Obnoxious aggression – when a manager belittles employees.
  2. Ruinous empathy – when a manager doesn’t criticize employees at all, not to hurt their feelings.
  3. Manipulative insincerity – when a manager tries to win respect through manipulations, using criticism and praise.
  4. Radical candor – when a manager tells the truth as it is, but underlines this is done for the person’s good.

Out of these four, radical candor is the most productive behavior, while other types characterize poor managers. By being candid, a manager gives employees an opportunity to grow and ensures the success of the project, at the same time maintaining trust.   

What to do to lead your team to success

Having the necessary qualities is great, but to be a great manager, you also have to do something. Here's a short list of basic steps that are taken by successful managers:

Communicate clear vision

A vision is the desired long-term results your company strives to achieve. It’s based on the reason why your company exists and the values it stands for, and it also describes what your company will look like in the future once its goals have been achieved. Formulating and then communicating the vision to employees sets a direction for the company and guides it through difficult times.

But to turn the vision into reality, you need to set goals first. Jim Collins, the author of “Built to Last,” calls these “BHAGs” – Big Hairy Audacious Goals, which can be target (”become the dominant player in the commercial aircraft” – Boeing,) common-enemy (“Crush Adidas” – Nike,) role-model (“Become the Harvard of the West” – Stanford,) or internal transformation (“transform the company into the best diversified high-technology one in the world” – Rockwell.)

As an alternative to BHAGs, you can also take a more practical approach and develop OKRs – Objectives (what needs to be done) and Key Results (what to do to achieve your goal). This system, introduced by John Doerr, aims to align the goals of each individual to the team's goals and eventually, to the company’s purpose (vision). Since OKRs are tracked in software, you can visually see your progress in the form of percentage, and you can also see the OKRs of other people on your team, which makes the work process transparent.

The OKR cycle (which typically happens quarterly) consists of the following steps:

  1. Senior leadership creates company OKRs.
  2. Teams develop their OKRs.
  3. Employees develop their own OKRs.
  4. Employees track their progress.
  5. Everyone conducts assessment.

The OKR system links different operations and provides unity for the organization, as the same time helping people take control of their own progress.

Manage your time properly

Managers are busy. Besides performing 4 basic management functions (planning, organizing, leading, and controlling) and working in 10 managerial roles, they are often expected to help their teams with purely technical stuff. This way, they can easily get overwhelmed.

However, this won’t happen if you know how to manage your time. There is a great technique that can help you handle your work – the 4Ds of time management. It consists in categorizing your tasks based on their urgency:

  • Delete tasks that are neither important nor urgent.
  • Delay tasks that you have to do yourself but that can wait.
  • Delegate tasks that are urgent but can be done by someone else.
  • Do tasks that are both urgent and can’t be delegated.

This simple time management technique will save your time and ensure that work will be done.

Build a healthy culture

In healthy corporate cultures, teams function effectively, are adaptable, and constantly grow. The levels of job satisfaction are high, and so employee turnover is low. But how can you build a strong culture that creates conditions for talent growth?

  1. Communicate the company values. Diversity, competitiveness, preserving traditions – no matter what the value is, it must be incorporated into the company’s policies at all levels. Lead by example, demonstrating how you expect others to act.
  2. Recognize and reward employees. Positive feedback and rewards will make them more engaged and committed to the company.
  3. Hire employees who fit into your culture, and reinforce your cultural values during the onboarding process.
  4. Build and maintain a culture of psychological safety and healthy conflict.
  5. Do not tolerate disrespectful behaviors.
  6. Promote collaborativeness and inspire teams to achieve short- and long-term goals.  

One misconception about highly successful cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places… They’re energized and engaged, but at their core, their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving hard problems together. – Daniel Coyle, "The Culture Code"

Related: How to Become a Healthy Team (All You Need to Know in 30 Minutes)

No matter which of the above-mentioned pieces of advice you decide to follow, becoming a successful manager starts with a sincere desire to help your team achieve great results. If people can feel your true intent to make the company grow, your enthusiasm will inspire them to work harder. Lead with your heart, and let others do their best.

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