Good managers are great communicators, active listeners, and amazing supporters. The good news is, these are traits you can learn. From learning to delegate to aligning your team’s work with greater company goals, we’ll show the 10 qualities the best manager’s share, and actionable tips on how to develop them.
Can you name a single successful sports team that thrives without a good coach? Probably not. Even if you have the best player in the league, you need a strong leader to inspire, support, and guide every successful team.
The same goes for your workplace. Without great leaders, teams cannot be successful—no matter how hard they work. As a manager, it’s your job to guide your team, make the best possible decisions, and stay open and flexible. You need to balance the needs of these individuals and the greater company-wide objectives. Thankfully, you can develop the soft skills you need to be an effective manager—starting with these 10 qualities.
Management skills aren’t taught in school. To be a successful manager, you need to hone and develop a new set of qualities. There’s no blueprint to follow—your unique skillset and experiences will help you decide what manager style to develop. But learning these 10 qualities that many of the best managers share is a great place to start.Read: 11 common leadership styles (plus how to find your own)
To build a diverse team, you need to create an inclusive and positive organizational culture. When every team member feels respected and valued, you’re naturally going to boost employee engagement and (by default) produce better work. Perhaps more importantly, an engaged team is a happier team.
So how do you foster an inclusive work environment?
By building your emotional intelligence. Developing your emotional intelligence leads to better collaboration, advanced interpersonal relationships, and improved communication. Here’s how you can build and use it at work:
Have open and honest conversations with your teammates about how they feel at work and with the team.
Implement time for conversations and feedback to create a feeling of safety.
Help your teammates feel empowered by recognizing their ideas and work.
Recognize each team member’s unique qualities and assign work that compliments their specific skill set.
Establish group norms that encourage your whole team to practice inclusivity.
Look for team members who have different career paths to get a variety of people and skills working together.
Pro tip: Remember that creating an inclusive environment is an ongoing process. Part of doing this involves establishing and verbalizing group norms so your team can follow suit, but the ongoing effort is what will keep your team comfortable and honest with one another. If your organization offers trainings on team synergy or conflict resolution, make sure to take part and keep learning!
More often than not, project mistakes come down to a communication error rather than a performance issue. As a result, effective communication is vital, both for completing tasks as well as boosting team morale.
To streamline conversations, create a communication plan for your team.A communication plan defines your different communication channels and what each should be used for. This helps team members not only know where to communicate, but how to communicate within each channel.
For example, your communication plan could look like:
Use Slack for synchronous day-to-day updates, quick questions, or team bonding group chats
Use Zoom for one-on-one meetings or presentations.
Send emails to communicate with external partners or stakeholders.
Pro tip: It’s important to understand how your team communicates, both individually and as a whole. To gauge if you’re communicating effectively, ask for feedback. Feedback and performance reviews are great ways to start an open dialogue about how you can become a good leader to your team members.Read: How to give and take constructive criticism
This key aspect of team management is often overlooked because it seems so simple. But listening is more than just hearing your team, it’s a skill. Becoming a better listener improves communication, boosts collaboration, creates a deeper connection with your teammates, and builds trust.
There are four types of listening: empathetic, appreciative, comprehensive, and critical. To be a better manager, focus on a type of empathetic listening called active listening.
Active listening means listening with the intent to fully understand what the other person is saying. As an active listener, try not to be preoccupied with your own thoughts or responses; instead prioritize comprehension in your responses. Ask open-ended questions to gain a deeper understanding of what your teammate is talking about, paraphrase or summarize to make sure you’re fully understanding what’s being said, and avoid distractions or multitasking.
Pro tip: Better active listening can help you become more effective at conflict resolution as well. On top of paraphrasing and summarizing what your teammate is telling you, you can add to the conversation by using “I” statements. Using “I” statements is a great way to center the statement on your own experience. For example, you could say “I felt like my feedback from this morning didn’t resonate with you” rather than “You didn’t listen to me.”
A key component to building a strong organizational culture is empowering and putting trust in your team. Good company culture drives motivation and increases employee retention. It’s also good for morale, which boosts productivity and well-being.
To show your team that you trust them, delegate responsibilities and make work processes collaborative. Check in and ask them for feedback—both on your performance, as well as on the success of the project. Knowing that you value their opinion will strengthen their trust in you and help them to feel more confident and empowered in their work.
Pro tip: Show that you want the best for your team by prioritizing their aspirations when possible, and taking responsibility when you fall short. One way of showing your team that you care about their growth is to support them in creating professional development plans. This document is perfect to define career goals and hold yourself accountable.Read: What is a professional development plan (PDP)? 6 steps to create one
As a manager, you are responsible for making decisions that affect the entire team. To avoid conflicts when making important decisions, it’s important to coordinate with your team and communicate properly by:
Informing your team of your decisions as soon as possible.
Giving your team time to process and react—especially if your decisions will affect their work or personal lives.
Offering explanations and context for your decisions. Your team will appreciate the transparency, and it’s crucial to building trust.
Pro tip: Use frameworks and practices to develop better decision-making skills. For example, if you’re deciding which project to prioritize, you can use data-driven decision making models that incorporate all the facts. Or use the ladder of inference when you need to explain why you came to a certain decision. Test out different methods and models to learn what works best for you and your team.
Your team isn't perfect, and neither is their work. But ultimately, the buck stops with you—which means that you need to take responsibility for any missteps that happen. This is called accountability, and it’s one of the harder leadership skills to learn. As a team lead, you need to take responsibility for all the work that’s put out, even if you weren’t the one who actually created it.
There’s an upside to this. By taking accountability for your team’s mistakes, you have the opportunity to help them learn from their mistakes. It builds trust, which shows your team that it’s safe to experiment and take creative risks. Which, ultimately, is how the best ideas are born.
Pro tip: Accountability isn’t just about taking the moral high ground, it’s also the quickest way to find a solution. Problem-solving will be one of your key roles as a manager, and you can’t start that process if you don’t acknowledge there’s an issue. After you take responsibility, dive into problem management to ensure that you spot and stop similar mistakes in the future.
Being a confident manager sets the tone for the team and makes it more likely that they will follow suit. Even if you’re a new manager and lack experience, you can reference the hard work that got you where you are to build confidence in your new role.
To build confidence, identify your strengths and keep a record of your successes. If there are periods of time in which you feel less confident, you can give yourself a boost by looking back on your past successes. It also helps to acknowledge when you’re in a tough situation. When you finally overcome it, congratulate yourself. That tough situation can be used as a confidence boost (and experience) for the future.
Pro tip: You should also find ways to show your confidence in your team’s abilities. Be there to offer guidance if necessary, but show that you have faith in their abilities by trusting them with important tasks. Host recurring 1:1 meetings with individuals to reinforce positive feedback, reminding them of the value they bring to the team.Read: You got this: advice for the first-time manager
Your team relies on you to take control, no matter the situation. As a manager, you’re responsible for both facing changes as they occur and helping your team to adjust. Becoming more adaptable will help you stay calm when issues arise, which allows you to make better decisions even in challenging times.
Pro Tip: To become more adaptable, learn to embrace change. Practicing mindfulness, keeping an open mind in every situation, and routinely pushing yourself out of your comfort zone are ways to develop adaptability. By learning to be more adaptable when times are good, you’re preparing yourself to manage and lead your team if a crisis does emerge.Read: 6 Tips to Increase Your Adaptability In the Workplace
The best managers do two things: push their team to grow and support them in slowing down. To produce good work, you have to hit certain goals, KPIs, and OKRs. Plus, keeping your team motivated and engaged can help push them to be more creative in their work. But, research shows that workers are feeling more burnout than ever before. Your role is to manage both aspects of the work, and know your individual employees well enough to spot when they need to push through and when they need a break.
Pro tip: Clearly outline expectations and deadlines in advance to avoid miscommunication. Then, save everything in one, central source of truth so anyone can reference them at any given time. This helps the team to plan ahead, reducing overwhelm and staying on schedule. And remember to stay flexible. Your project needs might change or someone might need a break. Build extra time into project calendars to ensure that there’s time for both work and rest.
The last quality on the list might just be the most important: be honest. At the end of the day, your team relies on you. They rely on you to guide, support, and champion them through the ups and downs of their work lives. Transparency builds trust with your team and holds you accountable, which shows everyone that you’re here for them.
Pro tip: Scheduling regular feedback sessions creates a safe space to share and be honest with one another. Instead of blaming someone for a mistake they made in the moment, you can structure your response to be more constructive during a schedule review. On the flip side, this time gives your employees the opportunity to be honest with you, which is the best way to become a better manager.
Developing core leadership traits doesn’t just happen—you need to take action. These tips will help you put your leadership qualities into practice, and ultimately, guide your team to success.
One of the most impactful things you can do as a manager is provide your team with context for why their work matters. Our research shows that when teams have clarity on how their contributions impact the organization’s objectives, their engagement doubles.
Unfortunately, only 26% of employees have a clear understanding of how their individual work relates to their company’s goals and just 16% feel that their company is effective at setting and communicating these goals. Knowing why certain steps and tasks are important to drive a strategy, create a product, or grow your organization will help your team feel valued.
By clarifying your team’s goals and project’s objectives, you allow them to see how their work aligns with broader organizational goals. Sharing this information helps motivate your team members to do their best work because they understand how they are contributing to the bigger picture.
To help them visualize this connection, use a goal tracking tool that shows how their individual and daily work contributes to long-term goals or a company’s mission. It's one thing to conceptually understand the objectives, but another to actually see that connection come to life.
Micromanaging occurs when you attempt to control every part of a project. It‘s difficult not to try to be everywhere at once when you know you’re responsible for the success of a project. But micromanaging can lead to you and your team members experiencing:
Lack of faith in their (and your) abilities
A loss in sight of the big picture
The opposite of micromanagement is macromanagement. To become a macro manager, practice delegating responsibility amongst your team members. In order to delegate effectively, you must first understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Try to delegate in a way that plays to your team members’ strengths—and their goals. If you can make their interests align with those of the team, they will find it easier to complete their tasks successfully.
Although you should not be responsible for overseeing every detail, understand that there are some tasks that cannot be delegated. On those tasks, it’s necessary to step in and take the lead.Read: How to lead by example, according to one Asana leader
Setting clear goals is one of the most effective ways to achieve success. It’s your responsibility to clarify the desired outcome for the project your team is working on. The clearer you can be about establishing your expectations, the easier it will be for your team to follow suit.
SMART goals are a great format to use when setting goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. These goals are clear and trackable, which makes them easier to measure when they are achieved (or missed).
To track your team’s progress toward project goals, you also need a central source of truth. Goal setting software allows you to schedule milestones and quickly produce project status reports. These reports provide your team with the context they need to succeed while giving them the chance to asynchronously collaborate and get their tasks done.
Collaboration software can be incredibly useful in improving your team’s productivity and performance. Software allows your team to clearly define the plan, the process, and the progress of the work, and enables:
A centralized location for important tasks so every member can stay updated on the progress of the project as a whole
Visibility across the team, which allows for each member to understand why their task needs to be done a certain way or at a certain time
Time management—by streamlining and centralizing the work, brainstorming turns into fully-formed concepts faster. You can dedicate your energy to figuring out how to boost the quality of work, rather than explaining and delegating tasks on an individual level.
Collaborative software isn’t a total replacement for all workplace communication. Rather, it’s meant as a supplementary tool to streamline the work process. Aim to still check in with each member of your team, and also check in with everyone as a group.
Having regular team building exercises doesn’t just make for a fun break, it’s also a great opportunity to create stronger bonds within the team. You can brighten everyone’s day with a quick icebreaker before a call or schedule a full day for team building activities. Whether you put these activities together yourself, hire a professional to get some fresh input, or take your team off-site, team building can increase trust and encourage collaboration among team members.
To get the most out of your team building, schedule activities during work hours—no matter how much your team loves their jobs, even fun work activities shouldn’t interfere with their free time.
Each manager has their own unique management style that shines through in their work and that’s great! But a combination of great communication skills, the ability to delegate, and a willingness to leverage the right collaboration tools will set you apart from the rest.