Managing the Managers

Back in 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article called “First, Let’s Fire All the Managers.” It listed the cons of management, like inefficiency, costliness, an increase in “calamitous” decision making, slower response time, and the disempowerment of lower-level employees. Then, it advocated for an entirely new kind of company: one without titles and promotions, where “no one has a boss.”

During the 2008 recession, many companies had fired all of their managers — or at least a big chunk of them. But, while some soldiered on with the new structure when the economy bounced back, many others returned to the old way of doing things, replacing the managers they’d lost.

So, if the brilliant minds at Harvard were so against the idea, why did they do it? Well, just like anything else, management positions have pros as well as cons. A good manager can inspire and motivate their team to greater heights, model good behavior patterns, and groom the next generation of leaders. Not every manager is a good manager, but anyone who has secured a skilled manager can tell you they’re invaluable.

Whether you’re worried your current management is ineffective or are on the hunt for a new department head, it pays to know the traits of an effective manager. Below, we’ve gathered a few characteristics to watch out for as summed up by experts in the field.

“A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career, but rather the careers of those who work for him.” –H.S.M. Burns

In other words, a good manager is one who is loyal not only to their company but also to their team. They care deeply about the people they work with, including their issues outside the office — like how their family is doing, whether they’re in good mental health, and how they’re coping financially. When employees feel like their managers view them as individuals rather than numbers, they’re more engaged, more productive, and happier. The opposite feeling has the opposite effect. Forbes reports that, according to a Gallup poll, “Among employees who strongly agree that they can approach their manager with any type of question, 54% are engaged. When employees strongly disagree, only 2% are engaged, while 65% are actively disengaged.”

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” –John Quincy Adams

Loyalty is a close cousin to this second managerial necessity: motivation. A manager needs to motivate and inspire the people they manage. According to CareerBuilder, a good manager who’s adept at motivating others can boost morale and increase productivity. “The best managers have a keen eye for areas that could be improved and know how to approach these issues diplomatically so workers feel encouraged to make productive changes, rather than discouraged by their shortcomings,” CareerBuilder reports.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” –James Hume

More than perhaps anyone else in the company, a manager needs to have top-notch communication skills. Not only are managers the ones assigned to handle the most difficult clients with grace but they also act as mediators in employee disputes. Managers are also tasked with communicating the company’s goals to employees, a charge that can either fall flat or spur action. As Victor Lipman wrote for Forbes, “Simple communication one can count on goes a long way toward building manager-employee rapport. And rapport builds trust ... trust builds engagement ... and engagement yields productivity.”