The Top 20 Qualities A Memorable Manager Should Possess


“In one word, how would you describe the best manager you ever had?”

This is a question I posted in the Group on LinkedIn. Below are the top 20 words of the 151 individual words that over 500 people to date provided to me. They are also graphically demonstrated in the figure above.

Inspirational 35 Coach 10
Mentor 27 Compassionate 10
Supportive 25 Trustworthy 10
Empowering 24 Encouraging 8
Leader 20 Passionate 8
Motivating 16 Approachable 7
Fair 14 Authentic 7
Trusting 13 Caring 7
Honest 12 Respectful 7
Understanding 11 Transparent 7

Imagine if one could have a manager that demonstrated all of these capabilities!

I love these words. They validate everything I have learned about being an effective manager in my career as a manager, an executive, a CEO, and as a management consultant.

Reading the list is fun, but let’s take it to the next level. What is at play here?

If we think about the manger-subordinate relationship… why do people in organizations do things that their managers tell them to do? It’s a free world. We have free will. We can make choices. We are empowered.

One reason: We need to earn a living, and if we don’t do our job, someone else will. But compensation is not the only driving force, because if it were, work wouldn’t be done with the level of capability and initiative necessary for high performance. And in my experience, most people want to do well in their jobs. (And our research supports this premise!)

Something else is at play. I believe it is the notion of trust existing between managers and their subordinates. In fact, two of the top words are Trusting and Trustworthy. Two sides of a coin.

Certainly, people work to earn a living, but many hope also to make a difference, and they often have a self-held belief that is furthered by doing the work. By working with someone they trust, and taking instruction from someone they trust, they can be fully engaged in their work. It’s important that employees trust that the instruction they receive is consistent with the goal of producing great work.

So what are the characteristics that are necessary to establish a trusting relationship, where subordinates are inspired, see their boss as a mentor, supportive, empowering, a leader, motivating, and so on? Scan the list again. Without trust, all of the other words are hollow thoughts. Trust is the foundation.

In my experience, trusting relationships in an organization are largely driven by two factors: the correct organization design and an effective talent pool system. More specifically, placing the right people (with the right skills, capability and application) in the right position enables them to earn trust. If managers are not appropriately placed, chances are they will not be able to earn trust from subordinates and, as a consequence, they will be ineffective. Yet, we know from research published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), that just 29% of employees think that trust in senior management is strong at their workplace. Managers are not respected for being more capable than their subordinates, and are seldom seen as having the ability to earn the trust necessary for a highly energetic and successful organization.

If the right organization design is in place, and a good talent pool process can appropriately match managers to positions, then the complexity of work will be appropriately aligned. This helps to ensure that managers have the right knowledge and skills, will value the work of management and do managerial work, and most importantly, have capability that is higher than their subordinates. If this is in place, then when problems do arise, managers are trusted by their subordinate to resolve them, and the trust relationship is enhanced.

In terms of manager effectiveness, the concept of trust is critical. Unless you have the right relationship between managers and their subordinates, and managers with the right skills and capability to fully apply themselves in their work, then it is nearly impossible to have managers that are truly effective.

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