How to Spot Manager Talent

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In order to be successful, organizations need strong, qualified managers to step up and lead. These individuals harness the potential of and direct the people and projects that make up a workforce.

But qualified and effective managers are hard to find. Not everyone has the temperament required for this challenging role, and those who do may need additional training and guidance to help hone their skills.

What Qualities Make a Good Manager

So, what attributes should you look for when searching for effective managers?

In my 20+ years of experience as an HR professional working with small and mid-sized organizations in both the private and nonprofit sectors, I’ve found that people with the following personality traits and qualities have the best success in management roles:

Empathy: Cognitive empathy, which involves the ability to put yourself in someone’s else’s frame of mind (as opposed to the emotional empathy of “feeling” someone else’s pain) allows a manager to figure out the best way to work with a particular staffer—rather than employing a “one-size-fits all” approach to leadership. This kind of empathy also supports flexible thinking and the ability to adapt strategy to new information.

Decisiveness: Effective managers are comfortable making decisions under time constraints and in the absence of perfect information. A good manager will make the best decision with the information available and keep things moving in a productive direction.  

Self-Awareness & Self-Control: Good managers know their strengths and weaknesses and can ask for help when they need it. They are able to respond, rather than react, to challenging situations. They demonstrate the ability to separate emotion from fact and don’t need to yell, engage in heavy sarcasm, or gossip to let off steam.

Communication: Clear communication of needs and expectations, whether written, verbal, or both, is important to good management. Look for someone who also asks clarifying questions if a goal isn’t clear and for support when they need it.

Responsibility: Effective managers have a strong sense of responsibility and can be counted on to get important work done, and/or provide the support their team needs to make this work happen. They take ownership for their mistakes and refrain from blaming others for their missteps.

Integrity: Integrity can be described as consistently doing the right thing, being genuine, and adhering to a standard of honesty and moral principles. This quality, along with treating coworkers with fairness, will earn a manager the respect of the people they lead.

Excellence: People who maintain high standards for themselves can inspire greater performance from the people around them. They encourage team members to give each assignment or project their best effort and not settle for “good enough.” They offer constructive feedback and opportunities for staff to continue learning and improving, in order to support the goal of excellence.   

Coaching: Much has been written about how the modern manager is more of a coach and mentor than a “boss”—or at least a stereotypical bossy-type boss. Executive Coach Monique Valcour told the Harvard Business Review that a good coach listens with full attention, asks open-ended questions, builds accountability, and ultimately supports and sustains an employee’s developmental goals. Look for people with experience coaching in other areas, such as sports, or who have had positive experiences with coaches or mentors themselves.

This list should give you a good place to start when looking at your team and evaluating who has some of the qualities that can make a good manager. Remember that even someone with the right temperament will need the right training and support to become an effective manager.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR (Senior Professional Human resources), SHRM-SCP is an HR professional and freelance writer born, bred, and living in Philadelphia, PA. Crystal has more than 20 years of experience as an HR leader helping small- to mid-sized for-profit and nonprofit companies develop policies, programs, and procedures that increase profits, maximize efficiency, and enhance positive employee relations.

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