How to be a great manager

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Swap “greatness” for management, and that last bit is what happens to most of us: we have management thrust upon us as we get promoted.

We are “accidental managers”.

Being a “manager” can seem very daunting: there are so many stories of bad bosses, and most people don’t want to be one of those.

But actually, the essence of being a good people manager can be boiled down to three actions, one principle, and one state of mind.

Read on to find out more, starting with the three actions…

1. Set clear expectations from the start

You can’t expect your staff to do a good job if they don’t know what a “good job” is.

This is the most fundamental responsibility of a manager: you need to communicate clearly and effectively what you expect from your staff, in terms of outputs, outcomes, and behaviours.

  • Outputs: what exact work need to be delivered by when? This is the most obvious bit of management: assigning tasks, and ensuring they are delivered. If you aren’t clear about exactly what you want from these tasks, and how you want it, how can your staff achieve that?

  • Outcomes: what is the overall purpose of someone’s job? What are they being employed to achieve for the organisation? If they know this, they will deliver better outputs, be able to prioritise their work more effectively, plus also have the scope to take their own initiative. It is much more powerful than just “output management”.

  • Behaviours: you don’t just want your staff to deliver stuff. You also want them to support and embody the values of the organisation while doing it. (For example, as a manager, it is your job to make sure that you don’t end up with staff that are excellent at delivery but bully their colleagues…) And this also requires communication of expectations. This means helping staff members understand what kind of behaviours are encouraged in your organisation, and what kind of behaviours are not tolerated, from the start. If they don’t know, how can they live up to them?

You need to be proactively communicating these expectations from the start of your relationship with your staff - whether you are new in the role, or whether they are.

(And if you haven’t done it yet, start now. Better late than never…)

2. Be consistent

One of the most frustrating characteristics of a bad boss is someone who is continually moving the goalposts.

  • One day their priority is x, the next it’s y.

  • One day they want you to mainly be delivering a, the next it’s b.

It is the opposite of empowering, and undermines good delivery: because staff are continually trying to respond to the latest whim, they are unable to prioritise their work effectively, deliver long-term strategic thinking, or be proactive about how to achieve their goals.

So, as a manager, your job is not just to set the course (by communicating expectations from the start), but also to encourage your staff to adhere to that course for a sensible amount of time.

That might be a 3-5 years, it might be one year, it might be six months (or even less if you work in a particularly fast-moving industry).

But you’ve got to give your staff a reasonable amount of time and space to deliver on their expectations without those expectations changing.

3. Communicate regularly

You can set expectations, be consistent, and still be a bad manager - if you don’t communicate regularly with your staff.

This communication needs to take many forms, such as:

  • performance monitoring: don’t just wait for outputs to be delivered, communicate during the process to help ensure what’s delivered is what you want.

  • organisational information-sharing: as a manager, you will be privy to organisational information your staff are not. It is part of your job to share this information (as appropriate) to help keep them informed about organisational developments - which will make them better at their job.

  • training and mentoring: you will have developed skills that your staff don’t yet have. A good manager will take the time to help staff develop these skills, using training or mentoring forms of communication.

  • listening, feedback and support: and of course, a good manager doesn’t just communicate down, they also encourage bottom-up communication, in goal-setting discussions, in team-building conversations, feedback to help you understand your own performance, and to ensure you are supporting their wellbeing. Involve your staff in the management process through two-way communication, and you will have happier staff, and better results.

In general, there are very few situations where there can be “too much” communication!

The principle

Being a good manager is a skill that can be learned, and if you focus on these three key actions, you will be doing a lot better than many!

But there is one fundamental principle to being a good manager: manage people in the way they like to be managed.

Some people work best with a lot of direct contact with their manager.

Others work best by being left alone for longer periods.

Some work best by being given very specific instructions.

Others work best by being given an overall end goal, and encouraged to find their own way to achieve it.

So, take the time to get to know your staff.

Ask them what kind of management style works best for them.

Keep that two-way communication going regularly, so you can change your approach as your relationship develops to get even better results.

Ask for feedback. And ACT on it…

People are different!

And if you want to be a good manager, you will adapt yourself to them - not expect them to adapt themselves to you…

The mindset

Which brings me to the final point: the mindset of a good manager.

And to me, a good manager is fundamentally someone who CARES about being a good manager.

  • If you care, you will take the time to understand how your staff like to be managed, and make the effort to manage them that way.

  • If you care, you will work at setting clear expectations, being consistent, and communicating effectively.

  • And if you care, you will focus on understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a manager, and maximising your strengths and remedying your weaknesses.

So if you are an “accidental manager” worried about doing a good job, remember that it’s really very simple:

the fact that you are concerned about doing a good job means you are likely to to be doing a better job than most - as long as you use that concern as a motivation to take action.

Deep breath, and go for it!

Good luck!


p.s. If you've recently become an "accidental manager" and are looking for support, get in touch to find out how I can help: or book into my calendar for a free intro call here!

Things to do and consider

  1. Think about managers you’ve had in the past. What did the good ones have in common? What did the bad ones have in common? What does this tell you about how a good manager manages?

  2. Think about the management style that works for you. Do you detest micro-managing, or do you like having regular support? Think about how it feels when someone manages in the way you hate? And think about how motivating it is when you are managed in the way that works for you. Which feeling would you like to create in your staff?

  3. If you have staff currently, think about the management style you think they each would respond to best. Work out what that means for you, in terms of goal-setting, or regular communication. Arrange private sessions with each of your staff members to discuss this, and stick to it going forward!