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Business Insights from Andrea Hill

How to Be a Terrific Manager Without Trying

Originally Published: 03 August 2016
Last Updated: 18 January 2022

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It’s one thing to have a bad job experience; it’s another thing entirely to watch one’s children go through one. Yet, that’s what they must do. When young people enter the workforce, they are typically subjected to a series of bad managers with poor training and insufficient communication skills. For years I had to watch my children live through a series of crappy jobs. It's part of the learning experience, but it isn't fun to watch!Now my oldest child is a nurse, and at 29 she is finally in her dream job. It’s not just that she loves the work, she loves everything about her manager, the corporate structure, and the company philosophy. The result is that she is completely dedicated and motivated.

There are a few reliable things that good managers and management organizations do that make them rewarding to work for, and my daughter’s new employer appears to do all of them.

1. Good managers have a clear purpose. This is true if the manager is the business owner and set the purpose himself, or if the manager is several rungs down the ladder and had to learn the purpose from his own managers. A good manager always takes the time to understand and share the company’s purpose and how his team can best fulfill it. This vision and direction enables a team to come together and work with one another for common goals.

2. Good managers hire good people. You can tell a good manager from the quality of employees that surrounded him. A good manager always looks for the brightest, most ambitious, most capable people he can find. Weak managers avoid any employee that could potentially take his job or outshine him.

3. Good managers are team players. A good manager knows how to let his employees take the lead, and encourages employees to practice leadership skills frequently. Leading from the middle is a powerful way to build a strong team by strengthening each person’s leadership skills, and it builds team confidence in their manager, as it demonstrates that he is willing to be a member of the team and not just the boss.

4. Good managers motivate with reasons and benefits. People don’t want to just be told what to do, they want to understand why they are doing it. A good manager has reasons and benefits for everything he requests, and he facilitates discussions around those reasons and benefits when necessary. I’ll never forget a manager I once had when I was younger; a Vice President in a large corporation. He had to ask our team to do something that was stupid. Not unethical, just misguided. But he didn’t duck it. He said, “Look, we all know this isn’t the best thing for us to do, and I’ve already tried to argue our position with my boss. But this is a good company, and we’re all going to make a bad judgment call from time to time. So let’s do this enthusiastically, and figure that it’s a good learning experience for everyone, including my boss!” We stayed motivated and even developed a sense of humor about it.

5. Good managers respect that people work for more than just money. A good manager takes the time to know and appreciate each individual employee. Every person has something that makes him or her tick, and a good manager wants to know what that thing is. It may be pride in a good job, a sense of responsibility, coming to work with people they enjoy, or learning new skills on the road to a more challenging career. Whatever it is, the good manager figures it out and then finds ways to keep the employee motivated by appealing to those values.

6. Good managers really notice their employees. They take the time to observe and learn each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and they find ways to play to the strengths. When a good manager plays to an employee’s strengths, the employee experiences greater success and growth. Then, the really good manager specifically recognizes his employees’ successes, both publicly and privately.

7. Good managers don’t mix positive and negative feedback. Feedback should always be specific and timely, and in the case of negative feedback, should include some information about what is desired. When you mix positive and negative feedback, both areas suffer. Let positive feedback be a cause for unhampered happiness, and let negative feedback serve its purpose by allowing the employee to reflect on it and improve.

8. Good managers set clear goals with and for their employees. These goals must be directly related to the purpose that was discussed in Step 1. Having clear goals motivates employees, helps them stay focused, and enables them to measure their progress and celebrate achievement.

9. Good managers delegate. This isn’t simply to spread the work around (though that is important). When done correctly, delegation helps employees stretch and learn. When employees accomplish new challenges, their confidence and their value to the team and company grow.

10. Good managers are accountable. They share the glory when the team has accomplished something, and they accept responsibility for team or individual failures. This level of responsibility is essential to building a culture of trust and safety. There is no innovation without mistakes, so a culture that punishes mistakes won’t have any innovation. When a manager is accountable for the team, team members learn from their mistakes and grow, and innovation thrives.

11. Good managers treat each employee with dignity and respect. They listen carefully, speak honestly and thoughtfully, and always work from the premise that people may have different skills but never have different value.

I would love to write an article called “How to be a Terrific Manager Without Really Trying.” Great title, right? Unfortunately, that article cannot be written. There’s simply no way to be a terrific manager without making an effort. However, if you regularly practice these 11 points, you will become a better manager every day.