What Are the Qualities of a Good Manager?

Cultivate These 5 Characteristics to Become a Good Manager

Effective manager

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A bad manager can make a great job terrible, while a good manager can make a terrible job tolerable. How can you tell a good manager from a bad one? These are five key characteristics.

Flexibility Is Key

A Manpower survey found that nearly 40% of global candidates say that a flexible schedule is one of the top three things they consider when choosing a job. But, flexible schedules aren't the only important part of management—treating employees as individuals is essential as well. This means that you can vary in how you react to different situations. Management "by fiat" where there is one solution for all employees doesn't make your company a great place to work. Good managers treat their people as people. That means they treat them with flexibility and understanding.

Honesty Is Essential

Let’s say a job description says "flexible schedules" and "supportive environment.” But then after you get the job, you find out that the boss's definition of flexibility means you can come to work any time between 7:55 and 8:02. The supportive environment turns out to be that everyone has to be at the office at all times, supporting each other. If this is the case, you'll start to hate the job—even if the work is excellent.

Honesty doesn't mean rudeness, but it does mean correcting problems when they come up. Giving employees specific examples of how, when, and what they can improve is far more valuable than nicely ignoring a problem.

Managers, of course, cannot tell employees confidential information, but they can tell them what they need to know to do their jobs. Honest managers don't hoard information.


Many employment laws center on the concept of compassion. If your employee has a new baby, it's kind to let the new mom or dad have time off to bond with the baby. It's also the law under the Family Medical Leave Act (if your employee qualifies). 

If an employee has a bad back and needs a standing desk or a specialized office chair, providing these things is kind and could also be required by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Other acts of kindness aren't enshrined in law. The federal government has no law requiring you to give additional days off when an employee's mother-in-law dies, but a kind individual does. No law exists that requires you to approve a flexible schedule so that your employee can return to college to finish their degree, but kindness does.

Good managers look for ways to demonstrate kindness, even when it's not required by law.

Fair Pay

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the rights of employees to discuss working conditions, including pay, with their coworkers. But people don't talk. Harvard Business School's Zoë Cullen and UCLA's Ricardo Perez-Truglia found that when they asked people to guess their coworkers' salaries, the guesses were off by an average of 16%. People don't talk about their salaries, which means that managers can pretty easily pay people unfairly. It's illegal to pay people based on race, gender, or other protected characteristics, and good managers should understand that fair pay for everyone is critical to success; they should feel fine when employees discuss their compensation with each other because everyone should theoretically be receiving fair pay.

Fair pay is not just having the same pay as other similarly situated employees. Fair pay also means employees receive a fair market rate.

A study found that employees who change jobs have higher pay increases than those who stay at the same company. Companies that don't give raises commensurate with what the employee would earn if they moved to a new company are not offering fair pay. It's essential to keep up to date with salaries.

Builds Successful Teams With a Leadership Mindset

Good managers don't just look out for their own success—they look out for the success of their teams. The Society for Human Resource Management says that in order to become good leaders, managers—especially those new to the position— must develop a leader's mindset. 

A leader has to see situations differently than an individual contributor does. The leader focuses on the big picture and helps bring people together to accomplish significant goals. You cannot expect to jump immediately from a "doing" role to a "managing" role without having gaps in your leadership skills. Good managers work to fill these gaps in and to switch their viewpoint to one of a leader.

A good leader wants employees to experience engagement and respect. It's not a matter of being right; it's a matter of building an environment in which people can succeed.

For instance, SHRM shares the story of a manager who led by yelling, which worked—until it didn't. Christian Shinkle says that when he switched his mindset from managing by fiat to managing by leadership, he saw a change. "A lot of times, just by slowing down and looking at it from the employee's perspective, you can understand why the employee made the mistake in the first place and figure out how to prevent it.” This is an example of a leader's mindset—what can I do to make things better.

The Bottom Line

There are millions of ways to become a good manager—no strict pattern exists that every good manager must follow every time. But these basic principles can help managers help their employees succeed. Successful employees lead to successful businesses, which should be the goal of all managers.