10 Nov What are the most important qualities that we want in our managers?

It’s a question that’s been asked a hundred times before – what makes a good manager? What makes a great one? What will make a great one in 5 years’ time?

There isn’t one right answer, but it’s clear that the modern workplace is shifting away from the traditional ‘command and control’ management and towards something much more human, rounded and relatable.

Before trying to understand the qualities that make a successful manager, it’s important to think about the purpose of managers in an organisation. As Craig Cincotta states, and we at The Talent Link are inclined to agree, “great managers have one job; to get the very best out of the people they manage” (Craig Cincotta, Entrepreneur). This is undoubtedly easier in theory than in execution, but is crucial in ensuring your team is effective and your business is booming.

The idea of ‘managing’ people is thought to have stemmed from the Industrial Revolution, with the early 1900s seeing the birth of ‘Management Science’, and employers begin to be curious how to get the most out of their people and processes, so as to ensure maximum efficiency in the new age of mass production.

In 1911, this ‘mass production’ approach continued with a theory called ‘Taylorism’. Coming from the works of Frederick Taylor, this way of thinking ‘encouraged employers to view employees as specialized and replaceable components’ (David Stuart & Todd Nordstrom, Forbes).

It wasn’t until the works of Tom Peters in the 1970s and 80s that the idea emerged of employers focusing less on the bottom line, more on people and culture as the drivers of business, and that modern management really started to take shape. Ever since, the notion of a business only being as good as the people within it has evolved to a state where people should be the number one priority for any company looking to succeed, and where the effective management of those people is more important than ever.

But what qualities do we think make a ‘great’ leader now?

Behind-the-scenes leadership

Also referred to as ‘following from the front’, this suggests that ‘the future management model is all about removing roadblocks from the paths of employees in order to help them succeed” (Jacob Morgan, Forbes).

Managers should no longer be cracking the whip and then taking the credit – the manager that today’s workforce want is one who sees their team’s road to success and enables them as best they can to walk down it themselves.

This relates to the idea of ‘autonomy support’; according to this article, psychologist Edward Deci and his colleague Richard Ryan found that this managerial approach of “helping employees progress by giving meaningful feedback, choice over how to do things and encouragement” – ie., allowing team members to work independently and just be advised and supported, rather than directed – could create higher job satisfaction and improve overall performance.

Of course, a good manager should also be able to know when a team member is ready to work autonomously and when they need more directive support – the key is that they give people freedom to work and succeed without the militant ‘command and control’ ethos of management past.

Manager as coach

With workplace coaching on the rise and high performing employees more important than ever, it’s clear that being able to implement coaching skills through interaction with your team is a vital quality for the managers of the future; Monique Valcour even wrote in Harvard Business Review that “the single most important management competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching”.

People are looking for more from their job than just their salary – they’re looking for personal growth, fulfilment and development too. Providing a platform for “an ego-less process in which coachable moments are created to draw out distinctions and promote shifts in thinking and behaviour” (Ron Caccioppe, Integral Development) is an incredible way to coach your team members to be their best selves in the best fit for the company.

A research study by Deloitte showed that organisations which are effective at coaching are:

  • 130% more likely to have ‘stronger’ business results (this is undoubtedly positive, if a little hard to quantify)
  • 33% more effective at engaging employees
  • 42% better in terms of employee productivity

With research showing that “employees perform better when positively coached, rather than being constantly evaluated” (Ron Caccioppe, Integral Development), coaching is a skill that effective managers can’t afford to ignore.

Mutual respect

Perhaps the most key factor in developing strong managerial relationships is to share mutual respect with your team members. Things that could be considered as ‘softer skills’ like building trust, honesty and transparency between yourself and your team go a long way to boosting employee motivation, productivity and loyalty.

A fairly recent Gallup poll of more than one million US workers, cited in this article, states that “the number one reason people leave a job is because of a bad boss or supervisor”. A study of 100,000 people by The O.C. Tanner Institute and Healthstream across the US and Canada found that an overwhelming 79% of employees who quit their job gave ‘lack of appreciation’ as a key reason.

More than anything, as a manager it’s vital that you respect your team and treat them as you want to be treated, in order to build a strong positive relationship that enables all of you to perform better. This doesn’t need to mean being their best friend, it just means being as clear as possible at all times and making sure every single one of your team feels valued.

The list of important managerial qualities could be endless. It’s clear that motivating your team, being assertive where needed and leading by example are basic requirements of an effective manager, but what we expect to see in the coming years are managers that can act to drive their team forward in a deeper, more collaborative way.

Take a look at the chart below, sourced from this article, showing one interpretation of how managerial qualities are evolving. We can see the manager’s role becoming less about telling and instructing, and more about supporting and enabling.



Have you noticed this shift in managerial style in your organisation?

What action are you taking to become a better manager?



The Talent Link are a fully approved centre for the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and focus on leadership development at all organisational levels. To learn how we can design and deliver bespoke training programmes for your top talent, contact us on 0203 693 7380 or email

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