What Qualities Make for a Successful Manager?

What Qualities Make for a Successful Manager?
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Proactive Behavior

Stephen Covey, in his bestselling book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People lists Proactive behavior as the first habit. Most people react to situations or the environment. Proactive people assess the situation and act to prevent problems from happening. They focus energy on things they can change or control, leaving alone factors outside their sphere of control.

When problems do come, reactive people report problems and rely on others to solve them whereas proactives rather apply their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions. They use the difficult situations and challenges as learning opportunities to upgrade their skills and competencies, and be better prepared for the future.

A proactive manager may for instance anticipate upcoming spikes in sales after studying seasonal trends, and order adequate stock and arrange for temporary seasonal staff. A reactive manager may remain oblivious to such trends and try to acquire more stock when demand rises and then make staff work overtime.

One important element of proactive behavior is effective prioritization. Good managers plan and develop the knack of putting first things first, or prioritizing. They avoid the temptation of sorting activities in their to-do list based on the proximity of the deadline, but rather sort to-do lists based on the importance of the task.

Proactive managers also specialize in getting things done by adopting a hands-on approach and and being close to ground realities and practical considerations over systems and policies in place. Good managers understand why a particular system exists and works around such systems if the systems results in a drag, provided that such circumvention does not defeat the purpose of the system.

The Whole Picture

Good managers consider the whole picture when making decisions and apply synergy. For instance, when deciding to cut short a product line, the manager does not limit the analysis to short term profit or loss that the product line brings to the organization. A good manager also considers other factors such as the brand value and intangible recognition that the product line brings to the company and how stopping the line would affect the company’s relationships with key suppliers and retail partners, which may impact other high profit products, and more.

Synergy is combining the strengths of people through positive teamwork to realize the time-tested percept that the sum of all parts together being more than the sum of individual parts taken separate. An effective manager encourages meaningful contribution from all team members by directing their performance and inspiring them to contribute to overall team goals. They also take the lead in spreading positive workplace behavior.

Flexible Leadership Style

Micro management and autocratic style of leadership are closely related concepts, and both constitute anthesis of good management practices in normal circumstances. Micromanagement involves involving in even minute details of subordinates tasks, and reserving rights to take all decisions. Autocratic leadership is leadership by commanding, dictating, and giving instructions, with scant regards to followers’ opinion or inputs.

Good managers delegate and empower employees. Even better managers understand the competence of their subordinates, to delegate and empower within the extent of their skills and competencies. In normal circumstances, they adopt a participative style of leadership and strive for management by consensus, taking along followers with them, but remain ready to change their leadership style as required.

For instance, a good manager may normally strive to get things done by acting as a facilitator to the IT programmer, and empower the programmer to make decisions regarding the project, intervening only when the programmer requires his expertise. But the same manager may, when the time to effect change comes, switch over to autocratic leadership and give precise and direct instructions, and micromanage, instructing the programmer on every minute detail. Again, when the new system re-freezes, the same manager may revert to their earlier style of servant leadership and empower the programmer again.

Persuasive Abilities

Effective managers need to not just delegate and empower subordinates, but also convince others to follow their direction, or agree to their viewpoint. One good technique that helps sell ideas and convince other stakeholders is the ability to quantify things. For instance, merely harping on the many benefits of multitasking may not cut much ice with either the management or the union to go in for such a change. The manager quantifying the benefits in terms of dollars saved by management, and extra pay resultant from better efficiency to the employees might convert them both to the idea.

Another good technique is creativity, or offering creative solutions and insights. Very often, negotiations break down and impasse continues as either parties stick to their respective positions. The ability of managers to apply creativity and present the same solution in a different manner might help resolve the deadlock.


All managers require good people management and interpersonal skills to survive. One trait that separates excellent managers from the ordinary is their ability to think win-win.

The win-win approach, usually adopted as the preferred negotiation style entails striving for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements, and making decisions valuing and respecting people over monetary or altruistic considerations. Such a win-win approach actually helps the bottom line more in the long run. A common example is the question of overtime vs. increasing head count. Mangers looking for short-term expediency may institute compulsory overtime, whereas good managers consider the ill effects of sustained overtime on the employee’s heath and productivity levels and seeks to increase headcount.


Two common and related traits of all successful people are patience and perseverance. Patience is keeping calm and equanimity in the face of setbacks, and biding time for a favorable outcome or turn of events. Perseverance is the commitment to keep on trying for such favorable outcomes. A third related characteristic is persistence, or the ability to maintain action regardless of inner feelings or turmoil, and pressing on even when the body and mind feels inclined to give up.

As Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States once said,

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Successful managers understand their limitation and work within their limits and within their system. They persist in working towards their goals and accomplishments, never buckling to challenges or in the face of adversity. To illustrate, a manager might want to introduce multi-tasking to provide workplace flexibility, but meet with obvious resistance from workers, and also from the top management uneasy about altering a profitable status-quo situation. The manager remains patient and bides time until the inevitable hold up of work owing to lack of flexibility happens. If the management still does not relent, and if the employee union does not buy the idea the manager perseveres to continue selling the idea. Finally, the manager displays persistence in the face of many odds when implementing the plan.


What factor caps all qualities that make a successful manager? The answer is communication. Good communication is a key requirement for success in any position, more so for managers. Successful managers provide clear cut expectations and guidelines, and do so promptly. They keep the team updated on latest happenings, and provide prompt feedback, all the while adopting a simple and direct style that is in tune with the recipient’s level of competence; the manager leaves no room for ambiguities or misunderstandings. Effective managers also listen emphatically with an open mind, and respond correctly. They base decisions on such feedback and inputs rather than on preconceived notions or assumptions.

Finally, successful managers radiate and espouse commitment to the cause. They serve as ambassadors of their mission and speak positive even if when having misgivings or expressing dissent in private, with their bosses.


Stephen R Covey. “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

Image Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/Renjith Krishnan