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The Six Key Ingredients of a Great Manager

23 Feb, 2016
  • By: Barry Lawrence

I have to admit it—I am a perfectionist. As an executive leader in my organization, I expect a great deal of my people. I expect us to innovate, to deliver with the highest quality, to be passionate, and to drive ourselves to exceed expectations. In short, perfection.

The Oxford dictionary defines perfect as, "Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. Free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless. Precisely accurate; exact. Highly suitable for someone or something; exactly right."

It's a big word, perfection. I get that. It evokes connotations of grandeur and challenges our potential. What does perfect really mean to us? Can we expect it of our people? Can we actually achieve it?

Short answer: How can we not?

You Need Great Manager

To be a great leader, you need to be the visionary, the dreamer, the change agent. But being a great leader does not necessarily mean you are great manager.

According to Leadership and Management expert Markus Buckingham,

“Great managers are not mini-executives waiting for leadership to be thrust upon them. Great leaders are not simply managers who have developed sophistication. The core activities of a manager and a leader are simply different.”

To achieve greatness, or perfection even, you need to have someone else who will run point on the front lines. Someone you trust to represent you. Someone to work alongside you to make your vision a reality. A pragmatic, detailed-oriented someone, whose core skills, abilities, and passions are expertly honed for organizing, coordinating, motivating, collaborating, and communicating.

The Key Ingredients

Clearly, a great manager is someone that is highly qualified with the requisite "hard skills" and subject matter expertise. But, the hard skills are not the most important ingredient. What significantly differentiates great managers from good ones is how they engage.

Great managers have the natural ability to learn quickly and have extraordinary aptitude. They are sponges that soak up and transfer the knowledge around them.  Managerial aptitude is not just about being smart, but also the ability to apply creative and critical thinking to problem solving.

Great managers are chameleons that adapt effectively to their circumstances.  They have the uncanny ability to synthesize the variables and drive decisive action. From explaining an issue to an irate CEO, to talking a customer through a question, to jumping in hands-on with the team to get the work done.

Great managers have integrity and value professional conduct. They are humble and egoless enough that no assignment is beneath their ability. They are also obsessive about quality, with a work hard/play hard ethic, and passion for getting the job done.

Great managers value teamwork. They have the core ability to bring people together and work seamlessly with others. They put the needs of the team above themselves and allow the effectiveness and productivity of the team to outweigh the needs of any one individual.

Great managers are fair. They have a knack for balancing loyalties between what is best for the company and what is good for the employee. They are highly respected and appreciated by their peers and subordinates. They are the ones people ask to work with. Their employees remember their birthdays and invite them to lunch. Their people often volunteer to work overtime when needed, versus having it mandated. Great managers have a softer side, but they are not pushovers. They also have a hard edge and know when and how they need to push their teams in order to achieve the desired results and outcomes.

Great managers are disciplined. They are process junkies that continually establish, refine, and enforce process discipline in order to get reliable and repeatable results. If you do not have effective processes in place, great managers are the ones lobbying at the front of the line to get what is needed in place in order to ensure success.

A Leader's Call to Action

We can, and should, proudly expect greatness and perfection from our people, because to be quite frank, we expect it from ourselves. Expecting greatness means being great ourselves. It means holding ourselves to the same standard, being fair, and of course, leading by example.

Do you have a great manager?  If not, perhaps it's time for you to take a hard look and raise the bar. If you do, what are they doing that separates them from the crowd, and how can we learn from their example?

Barry Lawrence's Photo

Meet the Author

Barry Lawrence

Barry Lawrence is BST Global's Group Director of Software Engineering, Product Director of Platform and Tools, and a member of the BST Global Executive Management Team. Barry leads a team of world-class software engineers dedicated to the innovation and development of the BST Global suite of software products and platforms. Barry joined BST Global in 2005 to lead the vision and strategy for the BST Global software platform. In 2008, he was named Director of the Platform & Tools Product Line, and in 2012, he was selected to lead the Software Engineering Team as well.