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Everything you need to know about becoming a great manager

Everything you need to know about becoming a great manager

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • What makes a really good manager?
  • The ability to delegate
  • The ability to communicate
  • Ways to develop communication skills
  • “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…”
  • How to become a great manager: develop a positive and inclusive professional environment
  • Setting Realistic and Achievable Goals
  • Be a coach as well as a manager
  • Managing different types of employees
  • The independent employee
  • The introverted employee
  • The attention grabber
  • The mature employee
  • The virtual employee
  • How to become a great manager: mistakes to avoid 
  • Being stagnant
  • Having meetings too often
  • Not keeping your expectations grounded in reality
  • Key takeaways

Great managers are made, not born. In this article, you'll learn how to become an effective manager and discover the tools you’ll need to set your team up for success.

For many, becoming a manager is the next step in their career path. Sure, it’s more responsibility, but it’s also an opportunity to help your team learn and grow, and you can have a direct hand in their success. It’s also a chance to become a leader as well as a manager, supporting and inspiring your employees as everyone contributes to the team’s achievements. 

Knowing how to use the skills you’ve already developed will help you build your management style. While there are myriad ways to become a great manager, there are a few characteristics and habits that you should be aware of before you take on the mantle of responsibility.

The skills and abilities required to be a great employee are not necessarily the same as those needed to be an effective manager. You have to maintain a delicate equilibrium between team and company objectives, employee support and requirements, and your own goals and interests. It’s not easy, but understanding the qualities that make a good manager can help you keep all the balls in the air and lead your team to success.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about becoming a great manager, including

What makes a really good manager?

Let's face it: many people are promoted to management positions because they were good at their previous job. But being a manager is a different skill set, and it’s important to become confident and effective in your role to reach your managerial potential.

It used to be that the word “management” was synonymous with “command.” In recent years, the trend has shifted, and managers have had to become more creative and flexible while employees' priorities have become less about the paycheck and more about job satisfaction, personal growth, and developing relationships. That means soft skills, rather than technical ability, have become more important than ever.

The ability to delegate

You can’t do every aspect of the job like you did before you were a manager. Delegating tasks ensures that your employees feel valued and trusted to use the right tools and processes, which develops both their abilities and their confidence. Delegating, rather than trying to “do it all” yourself, increases efficiency and strengthens time management skills.

Before delegating work, identify assignments and duties that can be given to others on your team. This will allow you, as the manager, to focus on your other responsibilities as well as the team’s “big picture.” Assigning work thoughtfully and strategically will not only help your employees to grow but will also ensure you feel a little less overwhelmed in your new role.

The ability to communicate

A great manager sets goals and communicates expectations. Employees tend to be more engaged in their work if they understand what’s expected of them. Be very specific in your expectations – this is not a time to be vague or make your team read your mind. That can lead to a reduction in morale and productivity.

Lack of communication is one of the top complaints employees have about their leadership team. According to an Interact/Harris poll, 37% of business leaders feel “uncomfortable having to give direct feedback/criticism.”

Other areas need improvement too. Some of the other areas where overall management fell short were:

  • Not sharing stories of failure (and how it led to growth)

  • Failing to Identify employee accomplishments

  • Avoiding direct interpersonal communication

  • Providing unambiguous guidance

  • Giving subordinates recognition for their work

  • Not getting to know their employees personally

Consider setting up one-on-one updates to stay abreast of your team’s progress, as well as having regular team meetings. And don't talk the whole time — ask questions of your team, encourage input, and emphasize accomplishments. Show your team you're listening, and they're more likely to feel valued.

Expert Tip

Per Gallup Workplace, employees who work for highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged in their work. 

Ways to develop communication skills

Just like most other skills, communication skills can be learned and practiced. It might take a little effort, but the outcome is worth it when the results are increased productivity, morale, and employee job satisfaction. As a manager, you can improve your communication skills by

  1. Practicing speaking. Rehearse your presentations in front of family or friends ahead of time. This will help with timing, fluidity of speech, and eye contact.

  2. Improving your writing, taking into account grammar, vocabulary, and audience. Find a book about writing, or take a course in person or online.

  3. Being a good listener. You have to know and understand what your employees need from you as well as the company to implement effective processes and procedures.

  4. Being aware of your talent pool. This means communicating with a wide range of ages, cultures, and backgrounds. 

  5. Understanding body language. The look on your face as well as the way you move can communicate your thoughts and feelings.

  6. Being clear and direct. Focus on what you need to communicate to your team, and avoid vagaries or unnecessary information.

  7. Being open to feedback. This will make your employees feel like they’re being heard.

Establishing clear lines of communication goes a long way toward averting misinterpretations and encourages a productive, supportive environment. 

“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…”

Your team members aren’t faceless droids bereft of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As a good manager, you need to take the time to get to know their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles to develop positive working relationships. They don't have to turn over their diaries every day but making an effort to observe how they work and asking them questions will go a long way toward getting a handle on their personalities. This will help you, as a manager, to identify what makes each employee special, "make it work" for them, and bring out the best in each person.

You can do this by focusing on 3 elements:

  1. What are the employee’s strengths — where do they shine?

  2. What helps the employee trigger those strengths?

  3. How do they learn best — are they a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner?

According to Harvard Business Review, the best way to do this is to ask, “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” This will encourage your team members to think about something they’re good at, have a knack for, or are interested in. This will also help you, as a manager, effectively delegate tasks because you’re aligning the employee’s interests and talents with what needs to get done.

How to become a great manager: develop a positive and inclusive professional environment

As a manager, it’s up to you to set the tone for your workspace. Employees need to feel seen and respected. This is not the time or place for "do as I say, not as I do." You need to be a leader and exhibit positive traits such as patience, kindness, and empathy. It won't make you look weak, and will go a long way toward boosting employee confidence and morale. Take the time to recognize individual achievements, as well. When people feel like the work they’re doing matters, they’re more likely to keep it up.

Consider setting aside some time for team-building activities. This can include small celebrations and employee recognition. While these activities can — and should — be fun, they should also be relevant, inclusive, and appropriate to your work environment. This is also a great place to gather your team’s input on how often these activities should happen and what they should involve.

Setting Realistic and Achievable Goals

When goals are being met, morale improves. When setting goals for your employees, the parameters should be clear, achievable, and have a measurable objective. Goals should align with both the team objectives as well as the company’s overall mission, and expectations should be communicated to all levels of the team.  While you want to avoid micromanaging, employees appreciate knowing they’re working effectively.  This is one of the qualities of a good manager.

When setting expectations and establishing job responsibilities, don’t be ambiguous. Goals shouldn't be unachievable or intimidating. To set your team up for success, consider using SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for

  • Specific 

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-based

Using the SMART method as a scaffold allows you, as a manager, to establish project parameters and identify the steps needed to get there, what you need to meet the goal and a concrete timeline for completion. SMART goals are specific, which helps employees understand what they need to do to accomplish them. These goals are also measurable, in that you can assess progress and stay on track for your deadline. Just make sure that you don't get too fixated on the deadline — the journey is just as important as the destination. People perform best when they understand clearly what is expected of them, so make sure to communicate, listen, and establish boundaries.



Avoid favoritism. It can kill morale and promotes disengagement.

Micromanage. Employees want their managers to be confident in their abilities.

Connect your goals to the overall corporate mission. Employees do better when they know their work matters.

Spoon-feed. Let your team do the critical thinking needed for success.

Demonstrate empathy. This helps to build relationships and fosters success.

Be arrogant. Allow others to shine.

Along with project goals, overall expectations for the employee should be set from the beginning of the manager/team relationship and should incorporate client/vendor relationships, employee education and knowledge, company policies, and social media usage. 

Managers should communicate the expectations of every employee, including

  • Positive attitude

  • Best practices for issues and problems

  • Job standards

  • Attendance

  • Truthfulness, reliability, and integrity

Expert Tip

Defining employee expectations

Belinda Wee, an associate professor at Husson University's School of Business and Management, says that defining employee expectations can “eliminate or reduce confusion, and increases the chances of employees being successful in achieving the goals set for them. Employees who achieve their goals enhance the success of the entire organization."

Be a coach as well as a manager

Good managers provide support, but they also inspire. This involves focusing on individual achievement and how it contributes to the overall goal, as well as fostering a positive work environment. This allows employees to prosper in their roles, and work toward achievement and success for themselves as well as the people around them. A successful manager inspires confidence and a desire to succeed.

Managing different types of employees

In any work environment, there are as many different types of employees as there are leaves on a tree. Rather than implementing a “my way or the highway” approach, a good manager will treat each person as an individual, with unique personalities, needs, goals, and styles. While everyone is different, being aware of some general personality types will help you work cohesively as a team and support your employees as they grow and develop their skills.

The independent employee

Self-managed employees can be a boon to the companies that hire them. They tend to be independent and require little intervention to complete individual and team work effectively and accurately. It is important, however, to maintain open lines of communication and check in regularly to ensure that this type of employee has the tools and information they need to function. It might be tempting to think they don’t need strong management, but a base of solid, regular support ensures that the independent, self-managed employee doesn’t fall through the cracks.

The introverted employee

An introverted or shy employee may not be “the life of the party,” but they can still be an efficient and thoughtful worker. Don’t mistake being soft-spoken for being disengaged — this type of employee may not speak up in meetings or have regular, boisterous interactions with their colleagues, but the wheels are still turning. Give the reserved employee room to work, but make sure they know you’re there for them should they need assistance or guidance. Consider one-on-one conferences where this employee can provide status updates rather than putting them in front of an audience. Inquire about what they need from you to function at their best in the workplace.

The attention grabber

Some employees have higher-level needs than others, requiring constant encouragement and assurance. They may also have a difficult time accepting feedback or may ask countless questions. Even a good manager might have the instinct to avoid this kind of employee, but it's important to find out what their actual challenges are and what they need to succeed. Don't let this problem fester — address it directly and openly, and make efforts to support them and help them develop independence.

The mature employee

It can be intimidating to manage an employee older than yourself who may have more years of experience under their belt. But a good manager is not cowed and takes the opportunity to utilize the older employee's know-how and skills to the benefit of the team. Keep the lines of communication open, maintain support, and make sure the older employee knows that they are respected and valued. They may or may not be a whiz with newer technology, so find out how they prefer to communicate and provide training to keep them at the top of their game.

The virtual employee

Remote work is becoming more common, and companies have had to change the way they support employees and maintain productivity. It’s easy for people who work off-site to feel disconnected from the rest of the team, so a good manager will strive to keep the lines of communication open and ensure this employee has what they need to contribute to the overall goals and success. Make sure they are outfitted with the necessary updated technology, provide virtual meet-ups and collaboration, and that they feel heard and are treated like a vital member of the team. A manager should make an extra effort to foster a personal, but professional, relationship with the remote worker, respecting his or her schedules and boundaries.

How to become a great manager: mistakes to avoid 

It can be difficult to make the transition from a regular employee to management. It takes a shift in mindset, transitioning from focusing on your success to a group dynamic. The truth is, many employees feel overworked, stressed, and undervalued, and the majority of the time their dissatisfaction can be traced back to their managers. There are, however, pitfalls managers can avoid to keep their team happy, and productive, and increase job satisfaction.

Being stagnant

Great managers aren’t satisfied with the status quo and are continually looking for ways to increase productivity without sacrificing employee happiness. Keep an eye out for inefficiencies, waste, and disorganization. Make sure your team knows they can come to you with ideas for improvement, and offer them a chance to provide honest and direct criticism. And this is a two-way street: you should maintain regular feedback and evaluations of employee job performance and offer suggestions for growth.

Having meetings too often

Meetings can help or hinder productivity, depending on how they’re utilized. When it comes to using time wisely, one could say, “Think of Michael Scott from ‘The Office’ and don’t do any of that.” Meetings are important communication tools but they should be used judiciously, only be scheduled for a specific reason, have an agenda, and not veer too much off-topic. This shows you value your team's time and provides as little disruption to their workday as possible. Ask yourself, "Could this be an email?"

Not keeping your expectations grounded in reality

Great managers keep their team goals realistic and attainable. Setting the bar too high can create undue stress and put a damper on morale. Impossible standards and expectations set employees up for failure, and that affects not only the team but also the company as a whole. Managers should evaluate needs and goals to set challenging, yet attainable goals. And these goals can be fluid. A good manager regularly evaluates progress and adjusts them as necessary.

Great managers aren’t born, they’re made. And they require regular development, learning, and growth, just like any other position. It’s important to manage your team with a healthy dose of respect, positivity, and support. Managers can make or break an employee’s experience at that company so if you’re a manager, make sure you're striving to make your team's work life better. Look out for management training opportunities and professional development to keep growing and improving as both a great manager and a leader.

Key takeaways

  1. A good manager knows how to delegate, communicate, and gets to know each employee as an individual.

  2. Good managers set clear goals and expectations, and tailor their approach based on each employee.

  3. Good managers avoid complacency, timewasters, and unrealistic expectations.

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