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9 Enduring Qualities of Great Managers

Published: March 19, 2020

Last Updated: February 7, 2024

  5 min read

Some fundamental qualities of great managers will always remain the same. Here they are!

People don't quit a jobas the old saying goesthey quit a boss.

We have heard this so many times; it's starting to get old. I know.

There is a morsel of truth to this narrative, though. Formal research and studies back up this claim. For example, Workopolis conducted a poll to get to the bottom of why people leave their jobs. They found that one of the top reasons cited by people is: "my relationship with my boss."

You're probably nodding your head in agreement. You must have anecdotal experience that confirms this data. Nearly everyone does.

However, other experts believe that people leave jobs for many reasons. In short, it's not so black and white; and pointing towards your manager is a simple way to rationalize a complex decision.

Whether people leave a job due to a manager or not, one thing we can ALL agree on: The manager-employee relationship directly impacts employee happiness.

Baseline Qualities Employees Seek in a Good Manager

We universally tend to seek out traits like kindness, humour, and compassion in our friends and romantic partners; there are comparable baseline qualities we desire in our managers as well.

Although the role of a manager evolves throughout time and from company to company, the fundamental characteristics of a good leader will always remain unvarying through space and time.

If you don't see your management style reflected in this list, that's OK!

It's important to remember for new managers that many of these traits are coachable. You can learn how to adopt these qualities and exercise them in your life and at work.


1- Great managers are great coaches 

If you look up the qualities of a great coach, you will find many answers that look similar to the list below. That’s because the notion of “coach,” “manager,” and “leader” are synonymous to a degree. 

A manager should be skilled at helping employees reach their potential.

As an example, think of the great athletic coaches of our time. A great athletic coach should be a master of training and conditioning the mind just as much as the body. Coaches are unofficial psychologists; they dive deep to understand what motivates an athlete and leverages those underlying drives to stimulate productivity, and ultimately, results.

When it comes to the work environment, a great manager thinks strategically by recognizing each team member as an asset that brings their own set of skills and abilities to the table. Simply put, they can harness each person’s potential to advance the performance of the entire team.

2- Great managers are aware of their own shortcomings and limitations

How good are you at judging your skills accurately? Most people believe they're VERY self-aware. When in fact, only a small fraction of people are.

What's interesting is this mental blind spot becomes even more pronounced in leaders who hold more power.

In short, the more powerful a leader, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities, according to a fascinating study published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology Journal Practice and Research.

Considering this "power bias," accuracy in self-awareness becomes even more important for people in positions of leadership and power.

Great managers are aware of these biases in thinking. As a result, they are realistic and honest about their limitation and knowledge (or lack of it) and are always curious and ready to learn, grow, and adapt. 


3- Great managers know when to exert control and when to offer freedom

Great leaders can tread that fine line between control and chaos. They know when to give direction and intervene; they also know when it's appropriate to let their employees take the reins.

Remember: You don't necessarily need to be working in a creative field to reap the benefits of creative thinking. Creative thinking helps with problem solving and idea generation in all types of professions and industries. 

That said, the antithesis of creative thinking is rigidity and control.

When managers are risk-averse and prone to micro-managing, they may unintentionally stifle their employee's ability to think openly and creatively. For this style of manager, the main concern is simply getting things done and producing results. Don't get me wrongproducing results is a fundamental component of a manager's responsibility however, if you want an organization to innovate and ultimately thrive, openness to change and the possibility of failure must be entertained.

4- Great managers don’t shy away from open and honest communication

Uncomfortable and tense situations sometimes arise in a work environment. A great manager can confront a difficult conversation with grace and tact. In short, great managers don't shy away from such discussions as they can't afford to.

That's because communication is a fundamental component of a manager's job; one-on-one meetings, interviews, quarterly reviews, to name a few. Being a manager means communicating performance reviews, news, and updates to your teamgood and bad.

In addition, great managers know how to have meaningful conversations with their team members. Asking the right questions and getting to know their team ultimately through meaningful conversation builds trust and builds strong manager-employee relationships. Resulting in more satisfying employee experiences and higher engagement.

5- Great managers don’t reactthey respond to high-pressure situations

Commendable leaders are often respected for their ability to stay "calm under pressure." But this shouldn't be mistaken with completely shutting off all emotional responses.

Successful managers aren't admired because they react in a robot-like fashion to a high-pressure situation.

We admire leaders and managers who experience an emotional responsebut remain calm despite it.

A great manager experiences this adrenaline-fueled chemical cocktail and sits with it, lets it pass, and responds to it instead of reacting to it. In short— they don't panic.

In a high-pressure situation, they can quickly identify what's in their control and what isn't and focus on the most importantwhat's in their control. This ability to stay even-tempered sets an example for the rest of the team. In sum, great managers strive to remain objective and realistic.


6- Great managers are always connecting the dots

A manager's job is to monitor and manage other people's work. Ensuring that things get done correctly and on time. Although that may seem straightforward on paper, in practice, it's anything but.

There are a million ways to get from point A to point B. A manager's responsibility is to get the team to point B, but also to determine the BEST course of action and to resolve any obstacles or issues that come up along the way.

When travelling from point A to point B, a manager should always be operating from a scientific and analytical mindset. They are testing hypotheses, connecting dots, noticing patterns, making inferences, pondering the implications of the dataand most importantly, taking action accordingly.

7- Great managers are comfortable with ambiguity 

The future is inherently uncertain. This is true in everyday life and business. Companies do their best to predict and control future outcomes for the organization, but there’s only so much in our control.

That said, managers and leaders are often stakeholders. So if outcomes don’t go as plannedwhich they often dothe resulting pressure falls on the manager.

As a result, a great manager must be comfortable knowing that things may not always turn out as planned. But they should be prepared to leap forward despite all looming uncertainty. Some people are more comfortable living in a grey and ambiguous zone, while others shudder at the thought of it.

8- Great managers are comfortable taking responsibility

This leads us to our final point; great managers are comfortable taking responsibilityfor both good and bad outcomes; and everything in between. They must be willing to be stakeholders.

The role of a manager is stressful. As they say: With power comes responsibility. Yet, natural leaders are motivated by this pressure — it pushes them. On the other hand, people who are a bad fit for management tend to falter under pressure and ultimately favour low-risk roles.

That said, great managers can admit when they could have done something better. They remain humble and realistic and ready to learn from an event where things don't go their way.

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