9 Characteristics of a Sought After Manager

No parent is perfect… I think the same logic applies to leaders but is especially applicable to managers. Front-line and middle managers often act as parents – setting boundaries and expectations, pushing employees past their limits, creating learning opportunities, listening to complaints, resolving conflicts, and creating a fun environment.

When I became a manager I asked myself “what kind of manager do I want to be?” which led me to reflect on manager’s I’ve worked for, and with.   When I take the best traits of every manager I’ve ever had — or admired — I get a composite of a pretty stellar role model. A person I’d like to model my own management style after.

What characteristics do managers-I’d-follow-around-the-world have in common?

I am Jill, employee 24925.

#1: Treat me as an individual.

Good managers treat me like Jill, not employee 24925. At a company with 65,000 people it’s easy to take a cookie cutter approach to managing a team – especially a large team. But like my 3 and 5 year daughters, I want rewards, recognition, and discipline (in the workplace we call this constructive criticism) to be specific to me.

Bueller, Bueller?

#2: Teach me something.

Whether intended or not, the best managers impart wisdom that can be applied to future jobs. Phylis taught me to always present solutions alongside my challenges (ahem, loud complaints). If I didn’t have a solution after my rant she would ask me to come back when I had some ideas on how to solve my problem.

“I have a dream…”

#3: Inspire me.

I am a creature of habit. Most of us are. When I’m in the day-to-day minutia of a job I need to tap into someone else’s imagination for inspiration.  I’m talking about that person that is so filled with energy and creativity you think differently through osmosis. Heather? She inspires me. She is always brimming with ideas, overflowing with energy, and passionate about doing the right thing even if it’s (gasp!) different!

“I cannot tell a lie…”

#4: Be honest and direct.

It’s a manager’s job to articulate the company’s vision, mission, and direction. Employees will often challenge these things, especially during times of change. The manager’s I’ve come to respect the most are the ones that are honest and direct. They are the ones that can somehow cut through the bullshit and tell employees exactly what they need to know, how it will impact them, and what the benefits *and* drawbacks are in an honest, direct way that builds trust and confidence in both the manager and the company. These managers, like Kelly, are simply human and normal.

For me it was managers like Brian, Vicky, Paula, Phylis, and JT who applied candidness to every conversation from performance reviews to organizational changes and everything in between.  Their feedback was always direct and actionable. No matter how constructive the feedback, massive the change, each communicated in a way that made me agreeable to follow along, if not embrace the change.

Work is a Dilbert comic strip in action.

# 5: Have humor.

Sometimes the best way to diffuse a situation is to laugh at it – or something unrelated. This is true in both personal and professional settings. It’s also why “team building” events, no matter how silly they seem at the time, are so effective.   Infusing fun into the workplace is vital to employee morale.

When in doubt I quote Office Space or Seinfeld for a chuckle. Here’s one of my favorites from Office Space: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2_Yi-1Ryf4

I have my black belt but sometimes I need a shield.

# 6: Protect me.

When I relayed to Mark a very personal and embarrassing incident in which an IT manager harassed me, Mark remained calm, assured me I didn’t do anything wrong, and immediately walked down the hall to handle the situation. It required manager intervention and he handled it in a way that stopped all further harassment without repercussion AND made me feel completely safe.

There are less dramatic instances of an employee needing help from a manager. Whatever the situation, a good manager listens, gives the benefit of the doubt, and gathers information before making judgment or taking action.

I’ve got the power!

#7: Empower me.

When I joined Diane’s team she said basically told me “I hired you because you have expertise in this area and I know you can excel here”.  A funny thing happened when I was the sole creator and driver of my program: I made it mine. I took a job I had done for years to new levels. I won awards. I got promoted. But mostly, I felt a sense of pride and ownership I had never felt before.

Get a life. Outside of work.

#8: Demonstrate work-life balance.

The truth is people that work 24/7 cannot create an environment for others to have work-life balance. Managers that have a personal life that includes hobbies and non-work-related-interests are the ones that are most successful at setting an example for the rest of us.

JT? I follow his blog.

Diane? She is a beader and appreciates a well-knit-scarf.

Mark? avid surfer despite living in New England.

Paula? She taught her kitten tricks.

Phylis? She vacations in Vegas.

Heather? She’s got a passion for content marketing and hair color.

Lyanne? Can complete a half marathon in 2:04.

I know these things about these managers because they (a) had a life outside of work (b) took time to share their interests with their employees / colleagues (c) encouraged their employees to do the same.

Nemo isn’t just a fish. Recently it was a blizzard too.

# 9: Embrace the disruptions that life brings

Power outages, snow storms, births, deaths (people, pets, even computers)…there are some things you can’t control. A good manager can work through these disruptions by balancing work across the team and/or reprioritizing projects.

Two months after I came back from a long maternity leave my stepmom died. I was out of vacation time. My work had already piled up quite a bit and demands were escalating on a daily basis. Shelley simply said “you have my full support. Take the time you need and we’ll figure out the logistics later.”

Does this inflection of what makes a good manager equate to me being a good manager?

Only my team can really answer this one.  But I sure hope so.

Tell me about managers that you loved working for and what made you like them.  I can’t wait to hear lots of stories and anecdotes.


5 thoughts on “9 Characteristics of a Sought After Manager

  1. Heather Meza says:

    What an awesome blog Jill! I really enjoyed reading it and am so happy our paths crossed and we get to enrich each other. You is cool people Jillybean!

  2. Neat cheat sheet for managers (and parents!) everywhere to manage less and coach more. Glad to see you go from strength to strength Jill – and thanks for the shutout !

    • jillshaul says:

      The lines between parenting and managing blur quite a bit. I find myself managing my children quite a bit but thankfully don’t have to parent my team! The shout out was well deserved, JT. Even though you were my manager for what seemed like a blip in time you made a lasting impact.

  3. Kim says:

    Love it! And I absolutely believe I became a stronger employee after having children.

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