What makes a successful manager?
As leaders and guides, we ask this of ourselves, our organizations, and our newest managers often. What traits and skills make the biggest difference for someone recently elevated from individual contributor to a key management post in a growing company?
The expected traits of a successful manager are most noticeable, and often cited when promoting someone:
- Good organization
- Planning and delegation skills
- Performance monitoring
- Subject matter expertise.
The best people with the best skills should be and are elevated into leadership roles, but what about the rest? The intangibles that can have as big of an impact as these commonly accepted traits.
Here are five such unexpected traits of a successful manager and how to look for (and teach) them in your team.
1. Embrace Failure
Failure is a fundamental part of success. If you can’t accept and embrace what failure represents, it will be exceedingly difficult to allow your team the space needed to innovate and grow.
Why is failure so important to the creativity and ingenuity of a successful team?
It’s a part of the formula. Successful managers let their teams experiment and try new things, but part of that experimentation is failure. Nothing works perfectly the first time.
Sure, there are non-negotiable elements – guard rails like safety, ethics, and business health – that need to be put in place, but a good manager learns to differentiate between these types of risks and healthy, productive ones.
And when someone fails? Celebrate it! Learn from it, teach it, and grow from it, but whatever you do, don’t lament it.
Some of the greatest innovations are born from failure. James Dyson, founder of one of the most recognizable brands in home products, tested 5,721 prototypes before coming up with one that worked. Steven King was rejected by more than 30 publishers getting his first book published. The founders of Canva, GoPro, Twitter, and LinkedIn all failed at some point but learned from those failures and launched incredibly successful companies.
Failure is just part of the process. Successful managers are those who recognize this and celebrate it in the efforts of their team.
2. Show Humility
Management’s role is to encourage and bring out the best in their team. That means celebrating and promoting success, and frequently stepping into the background so that credit is given where due.
When you become a manager, your ego will be instantly challenged – you are no longer only responsible for your own successes, but for those of your employees as well. Your job is to bring out the best in them, but at the end of the day, their accomplishments are still their own.
When do you put yourself above others? How can you change this so that your team always comes first?
It’s not that your needs will never come first or that you’ll never again self-advocate. It’s that you are now the first and foremost advocate for people who put their trust in you to do what’s best for them. Humility in the face of that responsibility can make (or break) a successful manager.
3. Be Reflective
We’ve all worked for a Michael Scott – at times lovable and often sincere, but incapable of self-reflection. It’s these managers who often struggle recognize flaws in their leadership and issues that could be addressed on a daily basis.
A reflective manager is one who carves out time every week to set intentions for how they want to show their leadership – actionable tasks that work toward a higher goal of improving their performance and becoming a better manager.
More than setting goals, a reflective manager takes time every day to reflect on how aligned they are with their intentions. This allows them to make adjustments every day towards their overarching goals.
4. Show Empathy
Most people care about those around them and, when conscious of their surroundings, will work to make those lives better. And in turn, people trust those who they believe care for them. It’s a circle that starts and ends with the manager.
But the rapid-fire nature of today’s work environment can get in the way.
Technology that distances people from one another, the constant rush of the next item on the to do list, and the too common habit of not listening to the needs and concerns of a team – these are all barriers to empathy that can make your team think you don’t care.
Fortunately, this is an easy one to fix.
Put down the phone when out of the office. Turn off your computer monitor during meetings. Stop trying to multi-task when in a conversation and practice the fundamentals of active listening to facilitate better communication with those around you.
Learn more in our guide to Active Listening, which you can download here:
5. Stay Connected
The fifth unexpected trait of a successful manager is connection.
The primary focus for most managers (as it should be) is on their teams. But, it’s easy to become so focused on those connections and making them stronger that you neglect to build your network with peers and those who are senior to you.
Why do this matter?
An important part of your job is helping develop people for their next roles. Only one person can move into your job when you advance, so a big part of this is connecting with other potential opportunities – whether in a different department or pertaining to growth opportunities as the company expands.
Additionally, building relationships with others (both inside and outside the company), makes information and resources for active projects more accessible. It can also help to fill roles on your team and act as an important network resource when you’re going for your next promotion.
Leveraging the Intangibles to Become a Successful Manager
Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does leadership success. While these unexpected traits of successful management are important and should be considered when elevating individual contributors to key roles in your company, they can also be coached.
By recognizing what success looks like, how it parallels growth in your organization, and what your teams need not just now but months or even years from now, you can build a stronger, more resilient leadership team that will be with you for the long haul.