The best bosses keep their eyes, ears and minds open

 "Why would I want a bulls-eye on my back?" a colleague said recently, when I asked him if he were interested in being promoted to a manager position. No doubt about it, many people would rather stay in their technical specialty than manage other people. Getting results through others isn’t for the faint of heart these days. Employees are more demanding, top management expects better results with fewer people, and the work environment is getting more litigious. But for those who get satisfaction from managing others, they would never trade it for a life as a solo performer.

I’ve been a student of good management principles for as long as I’ve had my foot in the corporate door. What makes a good manager different from an average one? What behaviors do they do that makes the difference? And I’ve followed a number of managers’ careers, both good and bad, curious to see how the plot would unfold over time. 

I’ve noticed that a few characteristics consistently emerge when I observe a good manager in action. They aren’t new or trendy. They just seem to work.

Here they are:
Set clear expectations.

Good managers don’t tell people how to get the work done. Instead they discuss outcomes with them. They take the time to make sure the employee can visualize as well as articulate what the end result should look like, and why. They do this in several ways. Sometimes it’s conveyed in a formal session, such as a team planning retreat or annual goal setting meetings. Other times it’s in informal conversation about how to handle a specific problem. In any event, employees know what they are expected to do and they have the room to execute the details in the way that makes the most sense to them.

Find each person’s unique talents.

A lot of energy is spent teaching managers how to discipline and coach poor performance. It’s a pity. If more time were spent focusing on how to discover each person’s unique talents, workplaces would be infinitely more productive and employees would have more job satisfaction. 

Good managers watch their employees to see what they do best. They talk to their employees about what brings them the most joy at work. Then they seek out ways to leverage those talents. I watched one manager take a secretary, who had an instinct for marketing, and give her projects that would tap those skills. The more her confidence improved, the more the projects and responsibility grew. She is now a Marketing Specialist. He is always looking to shift responsibilities to those people who are best suited to the work. 

Recognize their efforts at least weekly.

The quickest way to snuff out motivation and creativity at work is to ignore it. Sure you’re busy, but so is everyone else. And you are paid to pay attention to the good work your staff does, and say and do something about it. Good managers notice the little things. They write notes, say thank you (and mean it), flatter their staff in front of customers, and recognize employees consistently. In fact, good managers dislike performance reviews, because they feel forced and redundant. 

Get to know employees and show you care about them.

Good managers know that their employees could work elsewhere, but choose to contribute their time and talents to work with them. They take personal interest in the lives of their employees. They don’t pry, but they listen to stories about employees’ families and hobbies, so they can get a better appreciation for the whole person. When possible, they are willing to grant flextime, to accommodate their employees’ outside lives. Employees who feel that they are truly part of a caring team are more committed to doing good work and staying on a job for a longer period of time.

Be open and truthful.

Good managers don’t mince words, yet they mind feelings. It’s a fine line to walk. They are clear and direct about what they observe around them. They understand that communication is the bedrock on which their success is built. If they notice performance slipping, they won’t wait very long to say something. If they don’t understand something they will drill down until they get it. If there is a problem, they share that information and discuss potential solutions with those who can fix it. They never dodge the truth, no matter how troublesome it can be.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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