The top 5 company-growing characteristics of good managers

Date: June 4, 2024
Author: Kristin Zhivago

If you have worked for a bad manager, you will recognize all of the traits I described in my last article, The 10 most common company-killing Terribly Toxic Traits of Bad Managers. And if you are fortunate, you will leave that company for a better job, one where your boss is a joy to work for. 

It will take a while for you to stop cringing whenever your boss asks to talk to you, like a dog who has been beaten and has come to think that all human masters are cruel. 

In my experience, it usually takes about two to three months before you truly believe that you can depend on your new boss to be positive and encouraging. 

Thus begins a period in your working life where your work becomes a fulfilling and positive part of your life. You work hard, but you don’t have to worry about your “work/life balance,” because your work inspires you. Your job enriches your life and makes you happier at home. 

You are appreciated and supported. Life is good. 

I wish I could say that good bosses are the norm. They are not; they are the exception. 

This seems to have become a larger problem in the last twenty years or so, with the explosion of selfishness and self-centered behavior. It’s all about me and my satisfaction. 

Which brings us to characteristic number one.

Oh, and I’m going to call our good manager “Taylor,” a name that could apply to either a male or female, so I don’t have to wrestle with pronouns. Given that “Taylor” could go either way, sometimes I will use “he” and sometimes I will use “she.” We’ll see how well this works out. 

The 5 company-growing characteristics of great managers

1. They actually care about other people. 

I think most divorces start with a thought in the mind of one of the partners: “You care more about [whatever] than you do about me.” This is the moment the partner shifts from being in love to being disappointed by their lover. It is the beginning of the end. 

Manipulators pretend that they care. You see this frequently in the marketing messages put out by large corporations. They use “caring language,” but buyers and workers aren’t convinced. 

A good manager—someone everyone respects and wants to work hard for—doesn’t have to pretend to care. Taylor truly does care, and his behavior makes it obvious. Even the smallest decisions, when viewed by customers and workers, confirm that the person wants the best for them, and is doing everything possible to make it easier for them. 

Jerks make life harder for everyone else. Kind people do just the opposite. They go out of their way to make life easier for others. 

2. They are honest. Even when it’s tough. 

“Please listen carefully, as our menu choices have changed.” How often is that lie told to prospective buyers when they try to reach a human being at a company? We all know perfectly well that these menu choices haven’t changed for years, and that the recording says that simply to make you pay close attention. This is one of the millions of ways that buyers are manipulated. 

Workers are told that the company cares about them, but their actual behavior tells a different story. “Letting that person go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says the CEO to those who remain. And those who remain know perfectly well how badly that person was treated and don’t believe a single word the CEO is telling them.

These are lies. Only the liar believes them and thinks that others will, too. Personally, I think the real pandemic we are living with is a lying pandemic. Lying is built into the fabric of our lives in so many ways, and AI is only going to make it worse. AI pulls from the world’s sources and summarizes what it finds with well-written, authoritative-sounding content. AI can’t tell if the sourced information is bogus. And AI “hallucinates,” where 2 plus 2 equals 742. 

Customers are already skeptical of just about any promise made by sellers. Marketing pros and salespeople need to overcome this barrier. 

Liars are always found out sooner or later. And when their customers, workers, and partners realize that these liars really don’t care, that is the moment everyone starts to drift—or run—away.

Honesty is not only the best policy for management and marketing; it is also the primary way you can distinguish yourself from the rest. Honesty requires a daily commitment to telling the truth, even when that truth makes us look foolish. Those who watch this behavior know exactly what is happening and respect the person who is brave enough to admit to the truth. 

3. They are driven by reason, not emotions. 

Anyone can throw a fit. Babies do it before they learn how to communicate their issues successfully. 

Manipulators never grow out of it; they keep it as a tool to be used when they’re not getting their own way. The smoothest manipulators use the “fit” tool selectively, so it has more of an effect; the more obvious—and less successful—manipulators do it at the drop of a hat. 

The best managers acknowledge their own emotions in reaction to something negative that has happened, but they don’t let those emotions cloud their vision. They look beyond those emotions to the larger picture, including why that situation arose, who is affected by that situation, and what must be done to improve that situation. 

Instead of “This is all about me,” their reaction is “We’re in this together and let’s find a way to fix it.” 

My stepfather was a psychologist. One of the movements he got involved with was something called Parent Effectiveness Training (PET), close to the time that my autistic brother was born (I was eight years old). This was a tiny new human who had some real issues, including hearing abnormalities and difficulty communicating. 

I fell in love with Michael at first sight and loved him deeply throughout his life. Understanding him and what he needed was a challenge, but it also instilled an empathy and desire to help others which drove the course of my life and contributed to my very happy marriage. 

As I learned more about PET, I thought it definitely had an “it’s all about me” aspect to it. If a child ran out into the street, parents were taught to say, “When you do this, it makes me feel bad/afraid/sad.” In other words, the bad choice the child had made—a choice that was more likely to be detrimental to the child than to the parent—the parent made the child responsible for the parent’s happiness and shifted the focus from the child to the parent. 

Instead, a good parent (which is basically what a good manager is) would say, “What you did was very dangerous. When you run out into the street without stopping to look, there could be a car coming. The driver may not be able to stop in time, and could easily hit you. That would be a life-changing experience. Imagine not being able to ever walk again, or think, or talk, or play. I don’t want that to happen to you. I want you to be able to walk, and think, and talk, and play. So how can we make sure that you do the better thing next time?” 

This is logic, and logic is a powerful management tool. Which brings us to #4. 

4. They know how to give effective instructions. 

Have you ever worked for someone who uses the “stream of consciousness” form of communication? 

“I’m thinking that we might want to make this yellow, or maybe blue. I think these are more effective colors than the purple and green you’ve shown here. I have always preferred yellow and blue to other colors anyway. The first page should be bold and aggressive. Are we going to be sending these to X type of customers only, or the Y customers as well? I have to go to Boston for a conference now, but will get back to you with more thoughts sometime tonight.” 

Those who use this rambling style do not know the difference between “discussion” and “decisions.” 

What workers want from managers are decisions, so they can use those decisions to take the next steps in the process. They can be sure that their steps will be appropriate and successful because the decisions make sense. 

It’s fine to brainstorm and discuss the choices available and the pros and cons of those choices. But once the brainstorming is done, the good manager looks at all the information that came out in the discussion, and makes a logical decision. 

Might the good manager make a bad decision? Of course. It happens. Decisions are made based on the data available, and if or when new data becomes available, the decision may have to change. Our good manager, Taylor, will immediately admit to the bad decision and then make and describe a better decision. 

Even if they have done work as a result of the bad decision, the workers won’t be irritated. They will be relieved because doing that work started to convince them that it wasn’t the best decision. Quite often, loyal workers will continue to try to make the work successful, even if the decision was not, rather than tell their boss that they don’t think it’s working out. 

This means good people are doing bad things. That’s not good for anyone, and it’s discouraging for the good people. Good managers move as quickly as possible to admit the error and make a better decision. 

Their instructions, once the decision is made, are clear and logical. 

“OK. We have all agreed that yellow is the best color for the background, and blue is the best font color. We will also add a bit of purple as an ‘accent’ color, such as a thin border around the images.”

No emotion, no mention of personal preferences, no mention of Boston, or a promise of “getting back to you tonight,” which would have meant that 5 people working on the project were unable to move forward because no decision was made.

Obviously, decisions and instructions are joined at the hip. Good instructions are clear and definitive and give workers the information, tools, and support they need. The instructions anticipate questions that might arise along the way. And the manager who gives these instructions encourages the workers to speak up if they run into any issues. 

5. They make it easy for their workers to do their best work. 

One of the top goals I have, as the leader of our company, is to make Zhivago Partners a safe place for nice people to work. That means that we don’t tolerate jerks. 

When I spent all my working time as a revenue coach, doing marketing and sales department turnarounds, one of the first things I did was to determine which of the department workers was the jerk. It didn’t take long, since the most obvious characteristic of a jerk, as I’ve mentioned, is how they make everything more difficult. “Difficulty” swarms around a jerk like a fog; it’s an aura that they carry around with them as they go about their working day. 

Sometimes the jerk is a favored person—hired because of their relationship with someone in top management. These jerks are tougher to dislodge, but it is possible if enough evidence is gathered and the facts are presented properly. Sometimes the top manager involved moves the jerk to another department, which is unfortunate for that department, but the only way the problem can be solved. 

It is more common for a previous manager of the department to have brought the jerk on board, and once that manager is gone, the jerk can be let go. 

Everyone in the department knows which person is the jerk, but they don’t tell a new manager outright that the jerk is a problem. They simply drop some hints and hope that the new manager gets a clue. 

The moment the new manager fires the jerk, everyone in the department breathes a sigh of relief. “Finally. Now we can get back to work,” they say to each other. They are also encouraged that the new manager correctly identified the jerk and took the right action on behalf of the hard-working team. This makes them even more determined to do their best work. 

There are other ways to help workers do their best job. 

      • The company’s systems and processes should make sense and streamline operations. 

      • Each person should spend the bulk of their day doing what they love to do. Those who are outgoing and hate paperwork should be interacting with customers and partners, supported by very efficient processes. Those who love working on spreadsheets and reports should spend the bulk of their day doing that, and only a small part interacting with others. 

      • Meetings should be run as if everyone on the call has more than enough to do. The meeting should not be dominated by a manager telling stories or boasting about some accomplishment; the entire focus should be on discussion and decisions that allow everyone to get on with their work. 

      • The good manager will complement the person in public and point out issues in private. The negative discussions should assume that the person wants to do their best, and a “find it, face it, fix it” theme should dominate the conversation. 

      • If the worker is becoming less effective, the good manager will take the worker aside and gently ask if the worker is all right or needs some assistance. Quite often, the worker has become discouraged by the amount of “this is not my favorite work” projects that he or she is working on, but doesn’t want to make a fuss about it. The good manager will work with this person to change the situation for the better. 

      • Workers are paid a fair wage and are given raises periodically without needing to request them, as a way of showing appreciation for their positive contribution. 

      • Good managers keep their promises. There is no hidden agenda, and if a situation is difficult, the good manager will be honest about the situation and explain what is being done about it. 

      • Negative comments about others are discouraged and definitely not made by the good manager. Conversations are always driven by logic, kindness, and increased efficiency. 

    Toxic managers kill companies; good managers grow companies. They manage themselves and their workers successfully so that workers enjoy their jobs and do their best work. Their customers and partners know they are respected and well cared for, and they happily buy from or partner with the company. Investors, industry experts, and the press are impressed with how the company is managed.

    It’s a beautiful thing.

    Interested in booking Kristin Zhivago as a guest speaker on your podcast?

    Please fill out the form below and Kristin will be in touch soon!

    Get 2 hours of free consulting​

    Hop on a complimentary call with Kristin Zhivago, President of Zhivago Partners, and pick her brain for 2 hours, 100% risk-free.​

    Nevermind, I don't want free consulting...