Guide
15 minute read

How to Be a Good Manager: 11 Tips to Lead & 11 Skills You Need

You don’t become a good manager by simply knowing what to do. 

You become a good manager by doing it. Yet, so often, managers don’t. They have the best of intentions but fail to follow through on them.

That’s why this article doesn’t just tell you how to be a good manager, it provides you with actions you can take to put the skills and behaviors of a good manager into practice. 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • The 11 behaviors of great managers and how you can put them into practice
  • The 11 skills (technical and interpersonal) a great manager possesses
  • Key characteristics of good managers
  • What bad management looks like (so you know what to avoid)
  • How Waggle can make you a better manager every single day

Please note that some of the Waggle features mentioned are in development. By joining the Waggle waitlist you’ll be one of the first to experience product updates and new features. 

Management best practice - The 11 things great managers do (and how you can do them too)

Stepping into the shoes of a successful manager involves more than just ticking off tasks on a checklist. 

It's about embodying key behaviors, taking part in meaningful rituals, and nurturing a thriving team culture. It’s a practice that you have to consistently work on to improve. 

In this section, we'll explore the practices that make a manager great:

  • Leading with empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Setting aside time for 1-1s and regular check-ins
  • Running effective team meetings
  • Respecting their direct reports’ time
  • Regularly giving and asking for feedback
  • Communicating clearly and consistently
  • Aligning team goals to organizational goals
  • Setting OKRs and shared goals with their team
  • Taking professional development seriously
  • Empowering team members’ development and growth
  • Leading by example

For each, we'll delve into what it entails and how you can apply it in your own role.

1. Lead with empathy and emotional intelligence

Great managers tune into the emotions, perspectives, and motivations of their team members, fostering an environment of understanding and respect.

They’re able to respond to situations without judgment and they work to overcome unconscious bias. They know when to listen and when to suggest solutions. 

They’re never dismissive of problems or concerns a direct report brings to them and when it’s time to have difficult conversations they’re able to do so with care and compassion.

Kendra Cherry, MSEd wrote the below about emotional intelligence: 

How you can put this into practice:

1. Active listening: This is the first step to empathetic leadership. Encourage your team to voice their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.

2. Empathize with their situation: When issues arise, such as underperformance, refrain from jumping to conclusions. Instead, delve deeper to understand the underlying reasons. Are they overwhelmed with the workload? Do they lack necessary training? Are there personal issues affecting their performance?

3. Foster a culture of trust: Leading with empathy and emotional intelligence cultivates an environment of psychological safety. 

2. Set aside time for 1-1s and regular check-ins

One to one meetings offer a dedicated time to discuss individual progress, provide feedback, address concerns, and align individual efforts with broader team goals. 

Effective managers view these check-ins as an investment in their team members and a chance to foster deeper connections.

But you should also check in with your team beyond these moments. Send a Slack message (or alternative comms tool) to see if they need anything or to find out how they’re doing. 

Little touch points let your direct reports know that you’re available to them. 

How you can put this into practice:

1. Commit to a regular schedule: The frequency of 1-1s can vary depending on your team's size, individual needs, and the nature of your work. However, aim to have these meetings at least every two weeks. This ensures that issues are addressed promptly and you're staying connected with your team.

2. Prepare in advance:  Both you and your team member should come ready with points for discussion. Use our detailed 1-1 template to prepare an agenda and ask the right questions. You can also read our article that explains why a one on one meeting template is a useful tool.

3. Leverage the right tools: A digital tool like Waggle can make your 1-1s more efficient and productive. From setting an agenda to tracking progress over time, Waggle takes care of the minutiae, so you can focus on building relationships, understanding individual motivations, and inspiring your team members. It also coaches you in real-time and helps you adjust your management over every direct report.

Remember, 1-1s are not just for providing feedback or solving problems. They are opportunities to build relationships, understand individual motivations, and inspire your team members. 

3. Run effective team meetings

Team meetings, when run effectively, foster a collaborative work environment, ensuring everyone is on the same page and aligned towards the same goals. 

And for remote teams they’re a huge part of building and maintaining culture. 

The key is to run them with intentionality. And that starts with a clear agenda and objectives.

Here are common meeting types a manager holds:

  • 1-1 meetings
  • Performance reviews
  • Daily stand-ups
  • Project or Sprint kick-offs
  • Project or Sprint retros

If used poorly, meetings can become a drain on productivity rather than a boost. After all, no one wants to spend their time sitting in fruitless calls or meetings that could have been an email.

In fact, 67% of respondents from one survey say that spending too much time in meetings and on calls distracts them from making an impact at work.

A good manager knows when a meeting or meeting type isn’t working. And they’ll be able to change it or delete it so that everyone’s time is being used efficiently.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Establish clear objectives: Always set a clear agenda for each meeting. What do you hope to achieve? Who needs to attend to make that happen? What preparation is required?

2. Use the right tools: Use a tool like Waggle to help manage your team meetings more effectively. Waggle syncs to your calendar and your video call softwares, helps with setting up the agenda, and assigns action items to relevant team members.

3. Keep it engaging: Make your meetings interactive. Encourage everyone to contribute their ideas and thoughts, fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusivity.

4. Time management: Start and end your meetings on time. Keep the discussion focused on the agenda and avoid unnecessary digressions.

5. Follow up: Summarize the meeting’s key points, decisions, and next steps in a follow-up email or message. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and holds each other accountable.

6. Audit their effectiveness: If you find one of your meetings isn’t proving productive, evaluate why that is. Does it simply need a new structure or should it be deleted from everyone’s calendar completely?

4. Respect their direct reports’ time

Managers are busy and it can be really easy to start pushing meetings, showing up late because all of your calls are running over, and letting items on your to-do list fall further and further down in priority.

Good managers don’t let this happen, or if they do they address it and improve. 

Because showing respect for your direct reports' time is one of the most effective ways to build trust and foster a healthy work environment.

This entails not only respecting their working hours but also their deadlines and personal life. You certainly don't want to become the bottleneck that impedes your team's progress. 

Good managers follow through on providing feedback on tasks in a timely fashion, they don’t message or call too early or too late, and they show up to meetings on time so that their direct report isn’t left waiting.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Punctuality: 

Routinely being late to meetings sends a message that you don’t value your team members' time as much as your own. Make sure to be on time, and if you are running late, communicate that as soon as possible.

2. Message mindfully: 

Avoid sending messages and requests outside of contracted hours. Remember that work-life balance is essential for maintaining a happy and productive team. Most communication tools these days have the option to schedule messages, use that feature to respect your team's downtime.

3. Follow through:

If you promise to provide feedback or assistance, make sure you follow through on it promptly. This is crucial, as delayed responses can put your team's progress on hold and make you the unintentional blocker.

4. Efficient meetings: 

Ensure the meetings you schedule are necessary and productive. Avoid dragging out meetings unnecessarily. A focused, shorter meeting is often more beneficial than a drawn-out one.

5. Flexibility: 

Whenever possible, offer flexibility. If a team member needs to adjust their schedule for personal reasons, try to accommodate that. This not only shows respect for their time but also builds loyalty and trust.

Your role as a manager is to enable your team, not hinder them. So, be mindful of their time and they'll be appreciative of your leadership.

5. Communicate clearly and consistently

A bad manager tells their team one thing only to contradict themselves in a follow up. Worse yet, they don’t communicate at all. The team is then left to decode what’s expected of them while becoming increasingly disengaged by the lack of support they’re getting.

So good managers are not only clear, they’re consistent in their communication.

Clear communication aligns the team, prevents misunderstanding, and keeps them feeling supported.

A good manager will also communicate with Leadership. 

They’re clear about their team’s wins, blockers, and frustrations. For example, if an ask from the Leadership team isn’t realistic or would impede progress towards company goals, a good manager is able to communicate that.  

How you can put this into practice:

1. Regular updates: Keep your team in the loop about relevant updates and decisions. This doesn't mean bombarding them with every piece of information, but rather providing clarity and insight about what's essential to their work and the company's broader goals.

2. Transparent leadership communication: Regularly communicate your team's progress, challenges, and wins to your leadership team. If a directive from leadership is unrealistic or would hamper your team's effectiveness, voice these concerns constructively.

3. Active listening and clarification: When addressing queries, particularly clarifying questions, provide guidance, then follow up with "Is that helpful?". This simple question encourages further conversation and allows for any lingering doubts to be addressed.

4. Availability and responsiveness: Let your team know when and how they can best reach you. Strive to respond promptly and fully to any queries or requests for support.

6. Align team goals to organizational goals

A good manager puts their team’s efforts in line with the goals of the wider organization.

They look at what the business sets as priorities and ask themselves how the efforts of their team can help get the business there. 

For example, if the business wants to focus on customer retention and they’re a sales lead then they’ll set goals around closing more deals that fit the ideal client profile. That way customers are less likely to churn. 

This helps the team perform and contribute to the organization's success.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Understand and articulate the vision: First, ensure that you fully comprehend the company's strategic goals and vision. Break these down into digestible, relatable terms for your team.

2. Set team goals: With the organization's objectives in mind, set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your team.

3. Individual role clarification: Help each team member understand how their role and individual goals contribute to the team's and organization's success.

4. Regular reviews and realignments: Regularly review your team's goals and progress. If necessary, realign these goals to better serve the organization's evolving needs.

5. Celebrate wins: When team goals are achieved, celebrate! This not only boosts morale but also reinforces the connection between team efforts and broader organizational success.

7. Set OKRs and shared goals with their team

When setting goals that align to the business’s, a good manager taps into the perspectives of their team. 

Usually, teams are full of niche expertise that a manager might not have. By asking their reports what’s realistic and what objectives they should measure, they can set the right goals.

Team performance is a team responsibility. So including the whole team in the goal setting process can increase accountability and awareness.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Initiate goal-setting discussions: Instead of setting goals in isolation, involve your team in the process. This could be done during dedicated team meetings, or 1-1 sessions.

2. Create a collaborative environment: Encourage your team members to share their perspectives on what the team's goals should be. This creates a sense of belonging and improves buy-in for the shared goals.

3. Communicate consistently: Keep your team updated on progress towards the goals. Regular check-ins can help identify any potential blockers early and keep everyone motivated.

4. Encourage ownership: Assign responsibilities related to the goals to your team members. This creates a sense of accountability and fosters motivation to achieve the goals.

8. Regularly give and ask for feedback

Regularly giving and asking for feedback creates an open culture and helps everyone on the team grow. It can be as simple as regularly praising your team for successes and offering constructive feedback when necessary as well as carving out time to explicitly ask for feedback.

Doing this keeps lines of communication open, helps your team understand how they're performing, and gives them the opportunity to improve.

A great manager will make sure to deliver feedback in the way that the direct report prefers. For example, some people prefer to hear constructive feedback face-to-face while others prefer it in writing.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Schedule regular feedback sessions: Instead of leaving feedback to annual reviews, set up regular feedback sessions. You can cover them in your 1-1s but don’t be afraid to share feedback throughout the week, especially if it’s praise. 

2. Be specific: When giving feedback, be specific about what the person did well or areas where they can improve. Avoid generic comments and instead, provide concrete examples.

3. Ask for feedback: As a manager, don't just give feedback—ask for it too. This shows you're open to learning and growing, and it can provide valuable insights into how you can improve as a leader.

4. Create a safe space: Encourage an open feedback culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts without fear of repercussion.

9. Take professional development seriously

Great managers are learners.

They understand that to lead effectively, they must continually develop their skills, broaden their knowledge, and adapt to the ever-evolving business landscape. 

Taking your professional development seriously not only improves your performance as a manager but sets a positive example for your team to follow.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Set career development goals: Just like you set goals for your team, set personal goals for your professional development. Whether it's improving your communication skills, learning a new management technique, or understanding the latest industry trends, having clear goals will keep you focused on your development.

2. Continual learning: Make learning a regular part of your routine. This could mean reading up on management literature, attending webinars, or taking online courses. Stay curious and always look for opportunities to learn.

3. Get a coach or mentor: Consider working with a coach or mentor who can provide guidance, feedback, and insights to help you grow professionally. They can offer a fresh perspective, challenge your assumptions, and help you navigate any challenges you encounter.

4. Use technology to your advantage: Waggle’s real-time coaching helps you learn to lead your team more effectively by providing feedback and prompts while you’re in calls. It even helps you follow through on action items and put best practice into practice everyday.

10. Empower your team members’ development and growth

Being a good manager also means acting as a coach and a mentor, nurturing your team members' professional development and growth. 

Sometimes, this growth might even lead them beyond your company, and that's okay. The best managers understand when it's time for their direct reports to move on and do their part to facilitate that transition.

They champion employee training internally and ask their HR or People teams to support the growth goals of their team.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Identify their goals: Regularly check in with your team members about their career goals and ambitions. Understand their interests, strengths, and areas they'd like to develop. This could be during 1-1 meetings or through regular feedback sessions.

2. Provide learning opportunities: Help your team members grow by providing opportunities for them to learn new skills. This could include internal training, workshops, online courses, or even encouraging them to attend conferences and networking events.

3. Encourage autonomy: Allow your team members to take on projects that align with their interests and development goals. Give them the freedom to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. This helps them build confidence and prepares them for bigger roles in the future.

4. Mentorship and coaching: Consider setting up mentorship programs within the company. Having a mentor can provide your team members with valuable insights and guidance. 

5. Support transitions: If a team member decides it's time to move on, be supportive. Provide references, help them network, and show genuine interest in their next steps. Not only does this reflect well on you as a manager, but it also encourages a positive company culture where personal growth is celebrated.

11. Lead by example

As a manager, your actions set the tone for your team.

If you demonstrate poor behaviors, it can have a significant impact on team culture and lead to a toxic work environment. On the other hand, positive actions can lead to a collaborative and supportive atmosphere. 

Good managers demonstrate a work life balance, prioritize mental health, communicate clearly, ask for feedback, and any other behaviors they expect of their team.

How you can put this into practice:

1. Promote mental health: Acknowledge the importance of mental health openly. Encourage open conversations and destigmatize seeking help when needed. You can set the tone by sharing your own experiences, demonstrating that it's okay to take a mental health day or seeking professional help. Of course, this depends on the culture and benefits of your company as well.

2. Uphold work-life balance: Your team will often mirror your habits. If you're sending emails late at night or over the weekend, your team might feel the need to do the same. Instead, make it clear that you respect their time off. Use scheduling tools to ensure your messages are sent during working hours, and encourage your team to fully disengage from work during their off hours.

3. Acknowledge efforts: Regularly appreciate and recognize your team's efforts. This not only boosts morale but also promotes a culture where effort and accomplishment are valued.

4. Show accountability: When things go wrong, be the first to take responsibility and avoid placing blame. This promotes a culture of accountability within your team.

5. Maintain transparency: Keep your team informed about both successes and setbacks. This openness fosters trust and shows your team that it's okay to share both wins and losses.

Remember, as a manager, you're not just managing tasks and projects, but you're also influencing the culture of your team. The behaviors you exemplify will often be mirrored by your team members. So be mindful of the example you set.

11 skills every manager needs to be effective

Leaders, contrary to popular belief, are not born—they’re formed.

And it’s their cultivated skillset that ultimately makes or breaks them. 

Management skills are made up of what people refer to as hard and soft skills. But we prefer to call them technical skills and interpersonal skills. 

We find that wording places them on even footing while the connotation of soft and hard inaccurately reflects their importance and how difficult they are to develop.

Below, we’ve categorized and listed some of the most important leadership skills—the ones you should cultivate in yourself to be a great leader for your team.

What we’re not listing are skills that are related to your industry or team. For example, most marketing leaders will have niche marketing skills but because that’s not shared across all people managers, we won’t list them. 

Technical skills (hard skills)

Let's delve into the technical skills every manager needs, before moving onto the interpersonal skills.

 

Project management: 

The ability to oversee projects, coordinate team members, and navigate timelines is integral to the role of a manager.

Budgeting and financial management: Managers often need to be able to set budgets, oversee spending, and make sure the team is getting the best return on its investments.

Data analysis: With the rise of data-driven decision-making, being able to interpret and draw insights from data is an important skill for managers.

Strategic thinking: 

Envisioning the broader picture, anticipating potential challenges, and devising effective strategies are key to driving long-term success.

Public speaking: 

As a team's representative, a manager must be proficient in public speaking. Whether it's presenting to clients or communicating with company leadership, strong oral communication skills are vital.

Writing skills: 

Clear, concise, and compelling written communication is essential for ensuring effective team coordination and clear instructions.

Interpersonal skills (soft skills)

It's easy to assume that technical skills are what matter most.

But interpersonal skills are the ones that allow a manager to connect, empathize, and effectively lead their team.

Here are some of the skills good managers possess:

Conflict resolution:

Inevitable in any team, conflict needs to be handled fairly and productively. Effective managers can mediate disagreements and turn them into opportunities for growth.

Adaptability:

Change is a constant in any business. Managers need to be resilient and adaptable, able to lead their teams through unexpected challenges.

Listening skills: 

Truly understanding the needs, ideas, and concerns of your team requires active and thoughtful listening.

Decision-making: 

Managers frequently need to make swift decisions, often under pressure. The ability to balance risk and reward and make informed choices is critical.

Motivating others:

Inspiring your team and encouraging their best performance is a skill that can significantly impact a team's morale and productivity.

Bonus: key characteristics of a supportive and effective leader

Navigating the intricacies of management is not just about ticking off certain skills or performing prescribed duties. 

At its heart, effective leadership is characterized by a few key traits that make a manager not just good, but great. 

These are intangible qualities that breathe life into the more technical aspects of the job, instilling trust and respect among team members and fostering a positive work environment. 

Here are a few key characteristics of a supportive and effective leader:

Empathy: 

The ability to understand and share the feelings of others is crucial in a leadership role. Empathetic leaders can foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie among team members.

Integrity: 

Leaders with integrity inspire trust and respect among their team members. They stand by their words and actions, creating a reliable and honest work environment.

Resilience: 

The ability to weather storms and bounce back from failures or challenges is an important trait of successful leaders. A resilient leader motivates their team to stay the course and find solutions in tough times.

Vision: 

Great leaders have a clear vision for the future and the ability to communicate it effectively. They inspire their team members by aligning team goals with this vision.

Decisiveness: 

Effective leaders make decisions confidently and swiftly, using their knowledge and intuition. They balance taking quick actions with thoughtful consideration of potential outcomes.

Positivity:

A positive outlook can make a significant difference in a work environment. Leaders who maintain a positive attitude can help lift the team's morale, especially in challenging situations.

Humility:

Humble leaders are open to feedback and are always willing to learn. They acknowledge their mistakes and use them as opportunities to grow.

Flexibility: 

The best leaders adapt to changing circumstances and are flexible in their approaches. They are open to new ideas and can pivot strategies when necessary.

What bad management looks like

No one enters a managerial role with the intention of being ‘bad’. But effective leadership is hard to come by and there are probably more bad managers out there then there are good ones.

But knowing what bad looks like can help you steer clear of the common behaviors bad managers share.

Here are a few examples of what poor managers do:

  • Prioritize performance over company culture and wellbeing
  • Micromanage tasks and projects
  • Take credit for team success
  • Give conflicting instructions and feedback
  • Ignore feedback and concerns
  • Treat team members differently (with unfair preference given to some over others)
  • Avoid difficult conversations

What happens when you don’t manage well

The consequences of poor management can be severe, both for the individual employees and the company as a whole. 

Discontent and dissatisfaction among team members can lead to decreased productivity, poor morale, and increased turnover rates. 

In fact, a study by Gallup found that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. This translates to a massive impact on productivity and profitability. 

A poorly managed team can also lead to a damaging reputation for the company, making it harder to attract and retain top talent. 

It's a snowball effect—the more the work environment suffers, the more talented individuals will look elsewhere for opportunities, further degrading the team's overall performance. 

As a manager, being recognized as a poor manager can negatively impact your career growth. 

That’s why it’s important to have processes and tools in place to help you develop and carry out the behaviors of a great manager.

Build the behaviors of a great manager. Know what to do, when. And actually do it.

Waggle is an AI co-pilot for remote and hybrid teams, automating management admin, delivering timely nudges and coaching in real-time to help you lead and support your team effectively, every day.

You can sign-up to Waggle’s waitlist here. It’s where managers go to be great. 

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