I often like to say there’s no cookie-cutter mold for successful management. Great managers come in all shapes and sizes.
Despite this, there are some common attributes I believe all exceptional managers share.
Specifically, I’m talking about a constellation of qualities I call the “5 C’s”—competence, communication, conflict (the ability to handle it, that is), confidence, and conscience.
I’m not arguing that other qualities aren’t also important to sound management—simply that if a manager is seriously lacking any one of these “big five,” he or she will likely face substantive headwinds to succeeding in the role.
Let’s consider the reasons these five attributes matter (a lot).
“The best managers are active, candid communicators.”
Competence is “table stakes,” as we business folks like to say (making us feel a little less like office dwellers and a little more like riverboat gamblers). But competence in the field you’re managing is still something you have to have. If you’re just faking it and are basically unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of your business, it will get noticed. That’s not to say of course that managers are expected to be experts in everything—the higher you go and the broader your span of control, the less detailed knowledge you’ll have of particular subject areas. But to be truly effective you still need competence in understanding the core issues involved.
Communication is perhaps the single most vital element of this group. Simply put, I never met a good manager who wasn’t also a good communicator. So much of management—from coaching to correcting to goal-setting to flat-out leading—involves communication. And plenty of it. The best managers are active, candid communicators. If someone really doesn’t like communicating with employees, I’d respectfully suggest he or she is probably in the wrong line of work.
“So much of business, especially at higher levels, involves dealing with conflict.”
Conflict, or more accurately, the ability to resolve it effectively, is critical to successful management. Think about it, so much of business, especially at higher levels, involves dealing with conflict— adjudicating disputes, allocating scarce resources, ensuring collaboration among multiple parties with different agendas, and so on. The best managers face conflict directly, fairly and unemotionally, and recognize that expeditious conflict resolution is an important part of the job.
Confidence for managers isn’t a subject that’s too often discussed, but I believe it’s a key element of the successful managerial personality. Management is no place for the faint of heart. You can regularly be buffeted from many sides: from above (your own management), from below (your employees), and throw in some various and sundry clients, sales representatives, or rival managers from competing departments, and it’s always helpful to have a solid, resilient sense of your own self-worth.
Conscience too is an important piece of this equation. Management without ethics can end up in unfortunate places. “Tone at the top” matters. A lot. The best managers recognize that management decisions affect lives all the time. And while hard decisions unquestionably have to be made, making them thoughtfully and with a guiding ethical framework is a constructive way to exercise managerial power.
“Great managers do come in all shapes and sizes.”
To provide added perspective on this model of management, I recently had the opportunity to share these ideas with a group of managers and individuals interested in the study of management. Here are several of the responses.
“I agree that all of these attributes are essential for managerial success,” noted Lisa Nadal, Human Resources Manager for Design Superstore. “I’m glad you list competence first because there are way too many people put into management who are actually incompetent.”
Lisa continued by saying, “Communication is wonderfully listed as second, well-placed. Conflict is part of management, whether it is internal or external, and whether it is an issue of human conflict or logistical conflict or time constraints or even prioritizing conflict. Handling it poorly would indeed come across as incompetent.”
A few individuals also had ideas for other attributes that could be added to this list.
“Calming,” suggested Chris Bosman, a DevOps engineer for The Predictive Index. ”Stressful situations arise all the time in the workplace. A manager who can absorb that stress off of his charges enables them to work better under pressure.”
“Listening,” added Aashna Waiwood, a University of South Florida Ph.D. program grad student. “Good listening skills are key to making your direct reports feel heard and getting them what they need most to get their work accomplished.”
I felt these were all very good thoughts. As I mentioned at the outset, great managers do come in all shapes and sizes. Other reactions and ideas from readers? Leave us a comment. I’m always glad to hear them!
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Predictive Index™.