Like so much in life, the best way to familiarize yourself with anything is to observe and study it. To that end, you hopefully have at least one “good” manager in your professional sphere. If you want to learn about the characteristics of a good manager, find and observe one. Cultivate a positive and reciprocal relationship with them (or establish a mentor relationship if they are open to the idea). This is the best way to learn what makes a good manager. But it’s not always possible.
Go Back to School
In addition to that (or in lieu of if it’s not possible or you can’t find one), consider taking a management/leadership class, either online or at your local university/adult education school. You can find dozens of incredible online classes - many of them free - with a quick search. A few good places to start:
- 10 Places to Get a Free Business Education Online
- MIT Sloan School of Management
- 150 Free Online Business Courses
- Toastmasters International (not just for public speaking skills!)
These courses can help you gain the skills and traits that make the best managers.
Read a Book
At a minimum, there are a number of excellent and quintessential books available on the subject of management and leadership skills. Start with a “Best of” or “Top Ten” list as available from sources like Amazon (Top Ten Leadership & Management Books) or Time Magazine (Most Influential Business Management Books). A few individual titles that every manager-in-training should read include:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Identify and Develop the Skills
Good managers have many characteristics in common. Obviously, depending on the particular industry or profession, there may be a few specific skills, but these represent the core set that every good manager should possess. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but it’s a jumping off point. If you lack any of them, fix that. And cultivate and develop the ones you do possess.
- Communication Skills - a good manager must be an excellent communicator, and that includes speaking, listening, and writing. Part of the job is presenting (and gathering) information, and strong communication skills are crucial to doing the job.
- Leadership Skills - a manager is the leader. They must be able to motivate, persuade, discipline, guide, and assist. They must be willing to delegate, and trust, and collect alternate opinions and ideas. And they need empathy for the people working under them...to understand and appreciate the trials and tribulations facing them. These all make a strong leader.
- Conflict Resolution - problems can and will arise, between colleagues, co-workers, employees and employers, customers, clients, and any combination there within. As a manager, you must possess the skills to deal with these conflicts - both big and small - and bring them to a mutually satisfactory solution.
- Decisiveness - many people hate making decisions and are content to wait for someone else to make them and simply pass it along to them. That’s not a manager, though. The manager has to make the decisions - with input and an idea from others, of course - but the decision is ultimately theirs and theirs alone.
- Organization Skills - a good manager is organized. They understand that they must be organized with their time (punctuality and reliability as byproducts), their priorities, delegation of tasks to those below them, and in every facet of their professional (and private) life.
- Approachable - the best managers are not scary, or domineering, or intimidating. They actively encourage their employees to approach them, to talk to them, to voice concerns, to offer opinions and ideas. A good manager has an open door (at least figuratively) at all times. Employees must feel that their manager is available to them.
Get Some Practical Experience
If you want to familiarize yourself with the characteristics first-hand, then volunteer to manager a small committee or task force. If you’re not ready to be a full-time manager (or don’t yet have that opportunity), this is a great chance for a trial run. It might only last a few days or weeks, but it allows you to experience management in the trenches. And it puts you on the radar of your managers and supervisors.
Some say that great managers are born, while others maintain that anyone can master the skills. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. There are skills required, and some personalities naturally lend themselves to managerial positions, but everyone can at least get better at it.
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