The attributes of good managers

Being a manager is a hard thing. Whether you manage 1 person or 100, you are responsible for their performance, their progress, their engagement and ultimately their success. The ultimate reward for any manager is to see former employees go on to do great things in their career. If you think about your own career trajectory and professional growth, there's a good chance that a former manager is responsible for some portion of the path you have taken.

No one wants to be a poor manager. We all want to manage teams and people who do exemplary jobs and enjoy coming to work every day. With that said, my own experience is that there are more bad managers out there than there are good. Some people feel like they need to instill fear in their teams in order to get the most out of them. Others are too busy to spend the time cultivating a strong team, which is an indication that their priorities are misaligned. Some managers are afraid to get into the weeds or do what is required to truly understand every function at a basic level, which is a prerequisite for enacting positive change.

Understanding that being a manager is hard work and that no one naturally has the skills required to be good at it can be a revelation. For those of us who want to excel at everything we do, we research and read about the traits, habits and principles that the best managers employ. Armed with that knowledge, the next thing to do is to practice over and over and over again. Fortunately, if you are a manager at any level, every day is an opportunity to practice and improve.

So you have decided to invest time in learning and are ready to start implementing some new traits and tactics. What, then, are the characteristics of a good manager? Here are six:


You should be 100% engaged when speaking to your direct reports, never distracted. Make eye contact, maintain open body language, and really be with them, no matter how insignificant the conversation may seem. You must listen attentively and guide them in coming up with their own solutions rather than providing every answer. If you are taking notes while speaking to them, make sure they are aware of that so they don’t feel you are answering emails or otherwise distracted.


If your team believes they cannot approach you, they will never do so. They will struggle to solve problems on their own and feel isolated and unsupported. Being busy is not an excuse for being unavailable or disengaged from your team. Everyone is busy and there is no excuse for being an absentee manager. This means face to face interactions, 1 on 1s, regular team meetings, hallway conversations. While making time for your employees is possibly the simplest thing you can do as a manager, by no means is it easy to do consistently.


Take ownership of everything in your world. If the most junior person on your team makes a mistake, that is your mistake. You were not clear enough in your expectations, or did not give them what they needed to succeed. Always have your team’s back and be the first to fall on the sword. Project them, but hold them to the same standard as you do yourself. See Extreme Ownership.


Research consistently shows that clarity is the single most important leadership trait. This manifests itself in many forms, from email, to hallway chats, to larger team meetings. Clarity means giving direction such that everyone knows exactly what role they play and what they need to do. If you don’t have an answer, wait until you do before communicating. If you are unsure of what level of detail to provide, err on the side of transparency as you practice finding the right balance over time.


As mentioned above, the balance between openness and too much information is delicate and striking it well leads to a deep trust between employee and manager. Share feedback with them, be open about their growth path and timing, and let them know the direction the company and department is going. If they know what they are working toward they will put in significantly more effort.


The single best way to build trust and respect within an organization is to always follow-through on your commitments. From saying “I'll email you that spreadsheet” in an elevator conversation to a status report on a major project, make a point to always follow-up and follow-through with anything you commit to. If you tell an employee that you are working on something important like a promotion, difficult conversation with a colleague or a compensation change, do the work and keep them updated even if you are not progressing as quickly as you would like. The worst thing you can do is create a feeling of uncertainty for them.

This is by no means a comprehensive or final list. These attributes may seem simple or obvious. In my experience, these things return the most bang for their buck in building a team that trusts you and consistently performs at a high level. If you pick one trait to work on over the course of a month, put it somewhere you can see it, and be mindful in your daily interactions, in 6 months, you will be well on your way to being a better manager.

Bart Boughton