Scaling The Ladder

10 traits found in excellent managers

We have all worked with managers and leaders whom are outstanding. And given a chance, we would definitely like to work with them (or people like them) again.

People tend to gravitate towards these leaders, feel empowered, and achieve more than they thought possible.

But why? What is so special about these individuals? What makes you a “manager of choice”, that helps you in turn to become a “talent magnet”?

Here are some research-based tips that can help you to lift your game, raise productivity levels, retain your employees and convert your team into highly engaged star performers:

1. Understanding personality types and unique strengths

Smart managers know that each of their team members has a unique personality. Some are extroverts, some are introverts, some like to work with numbers, others with people, some are good with ideas and others are action-seekers.

By spotting the unique personality types and strengths and assigning work that is tweaked to each style, you can get more out of your people and also be seen as a ‘manager in demand’ for your insights.

2. Compliment frequently

The old patriarchal style of management required controlling reward and punishment. The manager was a distant person who gave little compliments. Today’s star managers use “positive psychology” – enhancing the positive qualities of people by complimenting spontaneously and frequently.

Research has shown that employees who frequently receive compliments are strongly bonded and much less likely to leave.

3. Lift the quality of conversation – listen

A manager of choice conveys empathy and understanding through a deeper and better quality of listening. They show that when the conversation is happening, nothing else matters but the person they are speaking with. They ask perceptive questions that get to the heart of the issue. They are non-judgmental and try to understand and experience things just as the other does.

Empathy is a very strong motivator.

4. Stay in touch

A manager of choice uses technology adroitly to stay in touch. Instant messengers are more nifty and effective than emails. Voice messages, chat, texting can all be used to convey status, find out details, push the work forward and stay connected without being overbearing.

Research has shown a positive link between the number of communication exchanges and engagement levels.

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5. Set the pace

Great leaders set the pace and keep things in motion. This helps to keep people from getting distracted or bored and losing focus. Some ways to do this:

Form small taskforces that can work on sharply defined goals

Draw people from across functions

Simplify a larger project by breaking down into smaller chunks then delegate

Use agile methods actively at work – forming teams, making presentations, providing feedback and moving things forward without waiting for perfection

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook says this best – “Done is better than perfect!”

6. Humour

A manager of choice has the ability to use well-timed humour to diffuse tension, de-stress others and to bring focus back. This makes things relaxed, eases people and the informality helps to achieve more.

7. Positive vision

Another aspect of positive psychology used by managers of choice is to portray a positive vision of the future. Optimism is an important aspect of motivation. Many employees, when left to themselves become demotivated, lose focus and develop a negative view of things.

By repeatedly conveying a positive vision, pointing out the “bright side”; showing small measurable improvements, the team stays focused and making progress.

8. Coaching

Research shows that the most valued aspect of leadership today is “coaching” – when the leader demonstrates the better way of doing something.

More than words and talk, people respect action. The most powerful motivation is when employees see their leaders demonstrating through actions the values they would like to see in practice.

9. Reverse mentoring, authenticity

The best managers know that learning is a two-way process. Experience, expertise and knowledge are not concentrated in a few people but are found across.

Managers of choice create forums and platforms and conversation methods by which they are able to draw out the wisdom among junior staff. This feeling of making a significant contribution and feeling valued is extremely powerful. This also helps the leader to stay connected with ground realities, to continuously learn and to relate to their team.

10. Convert work into play

Lastly, managers of choice can convert work into play by injecting a sense of fun, a sense of competition, by defining a goal that can be felt and experienced.

Play is extremely engaging and brings out peak performance levels because of its intensity, scores being kept, competition and teamwork. Good leaders are able to create these elements at work to motivate their team members. Here are some ideas to convert work into play:

Display a visual scorecard of achievements

Assign roles to team members as if they are players

Use sports language at work – ‘scoring’, ‘touching base’, ‘play to win’ etc.

Celebrate victories frequently

Sharad Verma is the global head of human resources for a financial technology organisation based in India. With over 20 years of human resource experience, his expertise lies within talent retention and development specifically geared toward middle management, and he blogs regularly on these topics. To contact him, email


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