Full disclosure: There’s no surefire model to predict managerial success. That having been said, there are essential qualities successful managers can’t do without – and substantive deficiencies in them should be a red flag to any executive, hiring manager or HR specialist looking to promote someone into a managerial or leadership role.
I can say with certainty that over the course of a long career every respected and successful manager I worked with or for possessed the four qualities described below – and conversely, any glaring weakness in these four areas was a significant obstacle to long-term success.
I call them the “4 C’s” (easy to remember for those like me with short memories!): Conflict, Communication, Confidence and Conscience. There’s also a fifth C, Competence – sound technical knowledge of one’s business (without which a manager will quickly encounter difficulties) - but that’s fundamental, so for these purposes I’ll consider it “table stakes.” Here are the four:
Conflict – A good manager has to be able to handle conflict. I call conflict “the currency of management.” You often get it from all sides: sometimes-unreasonable demands from those above you and howls of protests from those below. Being able to balance such conflicting needs in a reasonable and effective way – satisfying The General while maintaining the troops’ loyalty – is critical. While you don’t have to love conflict (most people don’t), you have to be at least somewhat comfortable in the fray. You can’t be a conflict avoider.
Communication – Good managers are effective communicators. Though this is a bit trite, it’s true. Any relationship – be it personal or business – founders on weak communication. You can’t be emotionally stingy when praise for an employee is deserved, or say nothing when corrective action is needed. Every really effective manager I knew was intuitive, perceptive… and an open, honest communicator.
Confidence – Management is no place for the emotionally fragile. For the reasons already mentioned – being regularly buffeted from above and below – you have to be able to ‘take a punch’ and come back the next day (or more likely the next 10 minutes) with a positive attitude. An ample dose of self-assurance, though not cockiness, is a valuable asset.
Conscience – The best and most respected managers I knew had a conscience. They were solid role models. They wanted to do the right thing, both for their own management and for their employees. Some readers might disagree and say, no, all you really need to succeed is the ability to please your own boss on the backs of your direct reports. There’s some truth to this; it does happen. But over the long term, managers of this type pay a high price in terms of employee morale, productivity and retention. It’s possible they’ll “succeed” in their own careers, but they won’t be respected.
I well remember a conversation I had with one of our company’s HR executives. We were discussing the tricky constellation of qualities needed for management success when she said a little wistfully, “Good managers are hard to find.” It was a simple but true sentiment, and as the attached article on employee engagement shows, a sizable majority of the American workforce is not enthralled with their management, not highly engaged, and most importantly not working at full productive capacity.
Which is why it’s so important organizations choose the right people to promote into managerial and leadership roles. Can anyone absolutely predict who will succeed in management? No. But can you look carefully for certain qualities whose absence will make success very difficult? I’d say yes, and I’d place ability to handle conflict, communicate effectively, possess confidence, and act with conscience at the top of the list.
(As Seen on Forbes.com)
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