What Makes a Good Manager?

It's all about people!

What Makes a Good Manager?

It's all about people!

What makes a good manager? Effective management does require the co-ordination of analytical, administrative and organisational skills. But perhaps it also requires something else.

Whether you’re entering a management role for the first time, moving to a new level, or simply taking time to reflect, think about this question:

Would you agree with Peter Drucker that a manager is “the dynamic life-giving element in every business”?

Is this how you’d describe yourself, or your manager? Would the majority of your workmates? Do you think your management style or ability gets the best out of your team, or attracts the best people?

Probably not, if research by Gallup is anything to go by. They’ve found that most employees say their manager is the person they would least want to spend time with. Hardly the right circumstances for displaying or inspiring dynamism!

Yet Peter Drucker argues that the manager’s role is crucial. In his seminal book: The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker lists the three functions of management as:

  1. Managing a business
  2. Managing managers
  3. Managing workers and work

He states that “the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business” and that management “is the organ of society specifically charged with making resources productive, that is, with the responsibility for organized economic advance.”

Effective management thus requires the co-ordination of analytical, administrative and organisational skills, in order to “make a productive enterprise out of human and material resources.” Acquiring and honing the practical skills of management are indeed fundamental.

However, these skills alone are not enough to make you a good manager. Even more crucial is your ability to deal with the lifeblood of any organization – its people.

“… it is also clear that the ‘resources’ capable of enlargement can only be human resources. All other resources stand under the laws of mechanics. They can be better utilized or worse utilized, but they can never have an output greater than the sum of the inputs.”…..


“Man, alone of all the resources available to man, can grow and develop.”


“Indeed, to make the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts has since Plato’s days been the definition of the ‘Good Society’.”

Peter Drucker

What Makes a Good Manager? Ask the Employees

Evidence suggests very clearly that managers make the critical difference in organizations. When employees are asked why they leave companies, time and again they cite their manager as the main reason.

What makes a good manager?To answer the question “what makes a good manager?” perhaps we should ask: what do employees expect from, and hope for in their managers? Extensive research from Gallup suggests that good management-staff relationships rest on four foundations. Employees would like:

  • Managers who show care, interest and concern for their staff
  • To know what is expected of them
  • A role which fits their abilities
  • Positive feedback and recognition regularly for work well done

You can read more about these four foundations in our article: The Value of a Good Manager. Why is it important to know this? As McKinsey discovered, when people are poorly managed there is a significant negative effect.

In 2000, McKinsey published a report: “War for Talent.” This was based on a survey of 6,500 senior and mid-level managers, from 35 large, U.S. companies. 58% of these managers reported that they themselves had been poorly managed. This had a negative effect on both the individuals and their organizations:

  • 76% said their learning had been restricted;
  • 81% said an under-performing manager had hurt their career;
  • 82% felt they had been prevented from making a larger contribution to the organization’s bottom line;
  • 86% wanted to leave the company as a result of poor management.

In a second piece of extensive research, academics Sirota, Mischkind and Meltzer investigated what motivates us all at work. They discovered that employees seek three things from their work:

1. Achievement – to be proud of one’s job, accomplishments, and employer.
2. Camaraderie – to have good, productive relationships with fellow employees
3. Equity – to be respected and treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits and job security.

Our article: Work Motivation: Play Your Ace, discusses these findings. It contains some useful advice on how to create the conditions where achievement camaraderie and equity flourish.

What Makes a Good Manager? Dare to Be Different….

Finally, some further insights on the meaning of good management come from Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. In their book “First Break All the Rules“, they argue that the best managers do things differently. the best managers:

  • Set expectations by defining outcomes, rather than just the right steps.
  • Motivate people by building on their unique strengths, rather than attempting to “fix” their weaknesses.
  • Develop people by finding the right fit for each person, rather than simply helping them to the next rung on the ladder.

Perhaps this is best summed up by some of Buckingham and Coffman’s closing words:

People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.

What makes a good manager? Try thinking about these final points to review how you might manage “differently”:

Outcomes – Don’t manage by control. Set desired outcomes and allow individuals to work the best way for them to succeed.

Strengths – Identify what people are good at. What have they repeatedly done well, which contribute to the organisation? Are they given the opportunity to do this on a regular basis? Could they be using these strengths more often?

Fit – Are your colleagues doing the right things to utilize their strengths? Are they in the right place, at the right time?

What makes a good manager? Yes, managers need to know the business they’re in, co-ordinating analytical, administrative and organizational skills. These are necessary but they are not sufficient. Good managers must never forget that organisations are about people. Encourage these people to flourish. Identify their strengths and manage the conditions in which these strengths can effectively contribute to the success of the organization. That’s what really makes a good manager.

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