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4 signs you are a great manager or a great leader

a great manager

Signs of a great manager

Are you a great manager?

What is a great manager? There are plenty of posts on “Managers vs. Bosses” and just as many on “When you know you have a lousy boss”. Today’s post is a different spin on the topic and my hope is to provide some food for thought whether you are a manager or want to be a manager.

As a preface, I generally don’t care for the word “boss” and whenever someone refers to me personally as “their boss”, I cringe wondering what am I doing wrong. For me, the word boss smacks of chain gangs, salt mines and insecure folks promoted via the Peter Principle. Below I list a few more subtle practices that I believe make up a great manager or strong leader.

1.  Relationships with the team outside of work:

I don’t understand it when managers insist that they cannot have a personal relationship with employees who report to them or have less experience. For the record, I am not referring to the “Hostile workplace, you want to keep your job, then you will do what I say” creepy and litigious kind of relationships. I am referring to the manager that doesn’t want to have lunch, hang out after hours, or befriend anyone on their team. I am referring to the manager who declines an invitation from the team to get drinks or go bowling after work or after a long hard week in the trenches. This manager wants to keep everything “On a professional level”. The fear that is often mentioned is that a personal relationship will make it hard for the manager to lay down disciplinary measures if needed.

If you are a manager and your team asks you to attend an event with them, you move mountains and skip little Suzy’s recital to attend. They won’t ask you twice.

I am conflicted. I don’t know whether I should respect or resent this mentality. The manager who insists he or she won’t hang out with co-workers clearly knows and understands the limits of their management skills. I wonder how they raise their children?  I know that I learned the most from the managers and mentors that I was able to develop a personal relationship with. I experienced more professional growth when I had the opportunity to hang out after hours with managers I reported to because it was in these social situations, outside of work where my managers were able to share “the real deal”. The depth of the discussions after hours are the types of details I try to go into here in these posts. It is these very discussions that I had on a personal level that kept me out of trouble and progressing on a professional level. I am NOT saying that managers should and become best friends with everyone on their team, I am saying that we shouldn’t avoid the opportunity.

CEO’s lead executive teams. The executive team reports directly to the CEO. The CMO, CFO, CTO, CHRO all report to the CEO. You won’t hear a CEO’s say “I make it a point to keep my relationship with the team professional. I separate business and personal life and therefore I won’t hang out with the team after hours”. You won’t find many execs that are willing to work for this type of CEO long-term. Most of these teams hang out together after hours. CEO’s know that a tight-knit team will work harder and longer for each and for the CEO. We all know that a team with nothing in common or a team that lacks a personal connection is “just showing up”. They don’t call them team-building exercises for nuthin’ Leroy!  The companies pay big bucks for team building events in the hopes of the team building personal connections beyond work. As individual contributors, most of us had our best relationships with managers who took a personal interest in our lives. Or at least faked it well.

2.  A great manager won’t introduce a colleague as a “Direct report”

A great manager won’t make it a point to let everyone know that “He reports to me”. I call bullshit. I report to a great one and when I am introduced by my CEO, he always builds me up. He doesn’t take me down. A typical introduction will be sound like the following:

  • “This is HRNasty, he just got us on the number a Gold Medal finish in the list for Best Place to Work”.
  • “This is HRNasty, just like you, he is really into fly-fishing. You guys have a lot in common”.

He knows that if I feel good, I will perform better. If the person I am being introduced to have confidence the CEO respects me, the relationship starts on an entirely different playing field.

I couldn’t imagine our CEO introducing me to a colleague with the following: “This is HRNasty. He is new to the executive team but we are working on bringing him up to speed.” He wouldn’t say this and this is why I will put in extra hours. He does everything he can to make me look good.

I try really hard to refer to anyone I am with as a colleague including wet behind the ear interns. I had the privilege of working with a high-powered lawyer who was responsible for the helicopter division of a large airplane manufacturer. I should, and would have happily reported to this guy in less than half a heartbeat. He was genuine and when we went to visit his office where the minimum rate is 6500.00 an hour, I was introduced to everyone as his colleague. Dammmn! I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, I don’t have a Ph.D., but I was introduced as a colleague and made to feel an equal in a house of Ballah’s. Thank you, KO. That was a life lesson that I try to practice to this day. It was because of sincere and natural detail for the respect of others that would have me sign up for his crew in a second. P.S. This guy was a litigation attorney.

3.  Dissin’ the Second Waiter / Waitress

You know the one I am talking about. You sit down at a restaurant and the First Waiter comes by, introduces themselves and asks if they can get drinks started. After going through the introductions and the specials, the First Waiter introduces the Second Waiter, who happens to be standing 2 steps back and 1 to the left in dare I say “respect”. “This is Joe Newbie, he is new and learning the job”. The second waiter just quietly smiles but doesn’t say anything. 

I get the distinct feeling that the insecure and dominant, I mean First Waiter will act like an NFL linebacker and make sure that the Second Waiter in training won’t contaminate your food by serving it, mess up your order because they haven’t earned the right to carry a pen, or even ruin the ambiance of evening by standing too close to our table.

Just once, I would like to hear “I am Joey, and this is Suzy, we will be helping you tonight. She is learning our system tonight and helping me out. I am really excited to have her on the team”. I realize that may sound corny in writing, but you are a frickin’ waiter, it is your job to sell yesterday’s meatloaf. Second Waiter is excited to be in a new gig, give her some leeway and sell her as an equal, and not someone who is a is in a protected class or two.

4. “But I can’t coach them, they don’t report to me”

I always cringe when someone tells me that they are not able to give feedback or provide coaching to a fellow employee/colleague because “I can’t say anything to them, I am not their boss”. Give me a break Gomer. If you are saying this and want to be a manager, you are not ready to be a manager. The greatest managers don’t want to be managers and want to naturally help others around them become successful. If you want to be a manager, a great first step is to demonstrate you can motivate without the title.

A great manager will not just motivate the folks on their team, but will also influence folks that they report to and folks beyond their department. Their circle of influence is not limited to the team.

Hard to believe but true. If you want to be a great manager, coaching folks out of your jurisdiction is the first step. If you have a problem with a co-worker, ask your manager for help instead of complaining. Managers and would-be-managers don’t complain, they solve problems.

Hopefully the above provides some different ways of looking at the role of a great manager. What are some other examples of a great manager inspiring you? Share them in the comments below and let’s get this party started.

See you at the pre-funk,



nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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