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What Makes a Good Manager?

"Great managers inspire people to believe in themselves. They create an environment where people feel valued and empowered to contribute their best."

~Simon Sinek

What makes a good manager?

Each of us can identify the traits of a bad manager. Throughout my career, I have deliberately taken steps down in my position to embrace new learning opportunities in order to broaden the experience I brought to each subsequent role. It was during one of these transitions that I realized I had, had a long run of amazing managers, and I had finally met a bad one. An experience with a less than stellar manager became one of the most eye opening things that happened out of that position. I became well versed in what not to do as a manager and vowed carry these valuable insights throughout the rest of my professional career.

Not all companies are good at coaching their managers on the essential skills required for effective people management. Often an outstanding employee is promoted for their contribution, only to find they suddenly have a team of direct reports, without necessarily having prior managerial experience. All the classes in the world on what makes a good manager don’t necessarily help. It needs to be more personal than that. I believe the only way a manager can become a good manager is by understanding how they “show up” for others, spending time looking internally and committing to continuous improvements. Bad managers often have trouble seeing how others perceive them. Perhaps they have an intimidating stance, are always looking at their phone, interrupt their team members, or consistently show up late to team meetings. This is where 360 feedback becomes imperative to elevating a manager's skills. Feedback from all relevant parties that interact with this person including a boss, direct reports and peers provides invaluable insights into a manager's performance. If a coach is engaged gather the feedback, help this person facilitate understanding, and self reflection, partner with the manager for an action plan to make necessary changes and then support them through their journey, this process can make for a good manager. Contrarily, putting new managers through classes, providing them bullet points on what constitutes a good manager and giving them generic quizzes often proves ineffective.

Reflecting on my own experience, what could have made my bad manager a better one? Below are the insights I identified during this experience that I’ve incorporated into my own management style.

Believe in Your Team

The word “Believe” always brings to mind the sign up in the locker room of Ted Lasso's team. Such an incredible show about leadership. It’s imperative for team members to feel like their manager trusts them and would have their back when pressed. This takes an understanding of each team member and their strengths, as well as the conviction and confidence to sometimes speak up and go against the consequences. New managers often find themselves in a peered of adjustment, getting to know their teams, and acquainting themselves with new boss and unfamiliar colleagues and therefore, hesitate to make a stand or challenge others.

I have worked with mostly outstanding individuals I have always believed in their capabilities.In one instance, a senior leader came to me with a “complaint” about one of my team members being uncooperative. This was a rarity and it raised a red flag. I went back to my team member and talked through the points brought up and listened to their perspective. It turned out, the “complaint” was initiated because my team member was advocating for budget accuracy and identifying risk, which was not necessarily a popular point to make. I surmised that rather than it being a complaint, my team member was doing their job. Yet it had been perceived as a threat to a proposed way forward, with a negative connotation assigned to that team member and swiftly escalated to their leadership. I went back to the senior leader and carefully explained all perspectives, described what had transpired and that necessary points had been brought up but not well received. The senior leader was fair and so she objectively could see what had happened. She respected my understanding of my team and the trust I placed in them. This incident led to valuable feedback for my team member on delivery and a suggestion to communicate more effectively with their peers. Most importantly it reinforces their trust in me and my belief in them. As Ted Lasso said, “You can't win alone. You need to have a group of people that you can rely on and trust."

Advocate for visibility

In my experience the Production department in the entertainment industry is often overlooked, misunderstood and under appreciated. It is certainly not the only department that feels this way but it is the one I can speak to with authority. It is a sad truth because without Production, creative ideas would never successfully reach the screen. I’ve consistently advocated for my production teams to have a seat at the table, to be recognized for their contributions, to be credited along with their creative counterparts and to emphasize that the more they were involved, the easier it was for all departments. I can remember on many occasions, going to the meeting organizer and stating specific reasons why production should be included. Making production visible hasn't always been an easy feat, as it heavily depends on the openness of the involved parties. Nevertheless, consistently advocating for visibility has proven worthwhile, ensuring that not only is my team recognized for their efforts but is also fully aware of the value they bring to the creative process.

Give your team an audience with the boss

When I was starting out in my career, some of the most meaningful moments were when my boss included me in activities with her boss. Whether it was as simple as sitting in on a meeting, or even better, an opportunity to attend a lunch or dinner, I valued those experiences. It was an opportunity to listen to their views, observe group dynamics, and sometimes, to actively engage in the conversation. Recognizing the value of an audience with one's boss's boss, I've sought to carry forward this practice in my own roles. Fortunately, I’ve had more than one boss who was open to spending time with my team. The one I remember most was my boss in the UK. When she came to the US she always made an effort to have face to face with my team in the office and if the schedule allowed, a meal. As a result she got to know the team and appreciate their contributions and they in turn felt valued, and were reminded that there was a growth path in the company.

Learn “We” instead of “I”

It’s so cliche but there is no “I” in “team”. Giving your department credit, or even your peers, can be challenging in a highly competitive environment, and in one where insecurity runs rampant because of a lack of confidence amongst employees. However, being willing to share the credit and let your team or others shine conveys respect, value and importance to everyone involved and sets a precedent for how ‘credit’ is taken. If there is an opportunity to let a team member present their contributions to a group or boss instead of you, embrace it. While working for a well-known industry leader, I can specifically remember a time when I gave my team lead an audience with this leader, to present the concerns of a project that we were advising against. She had worked so hard on examining all the different areas of risk, to make sure that all angles were considered, and she knew the details better than I did. She nailed the presentation and not only was her point heard, it effected change. She felt seen and rightfully got the recognition that she deserved for her diligent work. It’s important to share the spotlight with others because not just one individual should take credit for the collective “team”.

And finally...

I do not claim to be a perfect manager. My pursuit of growth is ongoing in remaining receptive to feedback, actively engaging in listening, and embracing self-reflection to understand how I present myself. Becoming a good manager or leader extends beyond traditional classroom learning. It encompasses introspection and relies on personalized support, training, coaching, and mentorship. Interested in learning more about your management style? Reach out to me to discuss.


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