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What All the Best Managers Have in Common

The best people don't leave jobs, they leave bad managers. I've experienced it, witnessed it, and studied it for two decades. And with the nature of work changing so rapidly in a soon-to-be post-pandemic world, how do you make sure that you're one of the "good" managers?

Much like a housing market where the power shifts between buyers and sellers every few years, business is similar. Right now, it seems like businesses can be picky. But very soon, we are going to emerge from the lockdowns, businesses will reopen, and life will start to look like it did oh so long ago. And when that happens, businesses will realize that, for the most part, they can get as much (probably more) done remotely. Now, that's not to say that everything will be all remote. But it's naïve to think that hybrid work won't be a major factor for work going forward.

And since that is the case, businesses will be able to "draft" the best available talent, not just people who are good enough and don't mind a commute. That means that employees will become picky about who they work for and what they do. And if your organization has a manager who leads poorly, expect your best talent to fly away faster than a teenager after dinner is finished. (Yes. That fast.)


Worse still, what if you're new to your management role? Maybe you were hired or promoted during this crazy year and left all alone to figure it out for yourself? Don't worry: I've got you covered.


Here are the five things that all of the best managers have in common. All you need do is take this to heart, figure out where and how you can implement these one at a time, as needed, and focus as much on getting the right things done as you do on getting things right.


The best managers let people do what they were hired to do.

We've all had that one micro-manager who just had to have it his way. No matter what you said, s/he knew better (the "know-it-all"). You climbed a mountain? They climbed two mountains, on the same day, and they were both higher than yours (the "one-upper"). Did great work on that report and presentation? No worries; they'll take the credit (the "backstabber"). They suck.


But their counterpart is the manager who recognizes that you were hired because you bring something special to the table. Great managers know it would be stupid to hire somebody who is worse than them at a particular skillset, only to have to constantly show them "how to do their job". They know you have talent, and push you to use it. These rare gems work on setting conditions that will make you successful and removing any barriers. In other words, they get out of your way and let you do your job. At the same time, they provide the necessary support and guidance to make sure you don't drift off the reservation.


The best managers lead people and manage systems.

The human side of management has gotten lost. There is no shortage (yet, unfortunately) of the "do as I say, not as I do" managers. They are constantly in a tizzy, complaining about how busy they are while forgetting to get you that thing you need to finish your project or task. But they sure are quick throw shade and cast blame when something isn't done. Never mind that they were the bottleneck.


The best managers make time for their people. The great ones have a scheduled time on their calendars where they expect people to come to them with questions and follow-ups. They don't get 'interrupted' by you, and certainly don't make you feel like an 'irritant'. They know that people require interaction, communication, purpose, and guidance. Technology and processes need to be managed; people need to be led.


The best managers listen and ask questions.

"He who answers a matter before he hears it is a fool and brings shame upon himself." (Proverbs 18:13) This should be enough to rattle any manager and caution them to listen first. But it's not. There are those managers out there who feel like it's their job to have the answer for everything. And they are quick to give you that answer without listening to what you found out or what you know. Inevitably, something goes sideways.


The best managers, the ones who have high-functioning teams, know how to listen to the details and take time to think things through. They ask probing questions to understand the 'why' and 'so what'. They harness the superpowers of everyone on the team. Finally, they seem to find the answer that is now obvious and staring everyone in the face. People buy-in to the idea and give it their best effort. All because of a few targeted questions.


The best managers are always learning and seeking to improve themselves.

If you can't lead yourself, don't expect to lead others. Professions are constantly changing and evolving. Such is the nature of business. There is not one course or curriculum that was taught 10 years ago and has not changed in order to stay relevant. Yet there are some managers who love to flaunt their high-priced degree or remind you that "this isn't the way that I used to do it..." They are frozen in time and becoming less productive every day.


I had one mentor who would ask me every time he saw me, "What book are you reading now?" and "Tell me something new you've learned?" I would be so ashamed and embarrassed if I ever had to answer, "Uh. Nothing..." Mind you, it wasn't the subject. It didn't need to be astrophysics or quantum computing. It was that I was always striving to gain and use knowledge on whatever topic was important or of interest to me. That made me better and helped me make those around me better.


The best managers balance accomplishing goals and the welfare of their people.

Let's face it, everyone loves a winner. None of us want to work for the "loveable loser" who could have, would have, should have, but never did. At the end of the day, managers are required to get results. And the team feels great when it has accomplished a big feat. But at what cost? Certainly not burning-out your best people.


Great managers know and communicate what it means to be "finished" with a project or task. They define 'success' and keep everyone focused on what's important and related to that goal. They also know what's going on with their people. And they adjust accordingly. 'Perfect', as they say, is the enemy of 'great'. And so is mediocracy. The best managers know how to plan, get stuff done, and push people forward (not off a ledge). They respect people and give 100% effort, which almost always results in accomplishing goals.



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