It’s not easy to define all the elements that differentiate a successful manager from one who isn’t, but there are some behaviours that tend to be common amongst successful executives at any level.
Here are some key things that you will need to do to become one of them.

1. Delegate responsibilities rather than tasks

Good managers do not micromanage their people. They ensure that people understand completely what is expected of them, and what are their objectives, and then work with them to help them achieve their goals, but allow them to freedom to get there in their own way.

2. Fight for your people

Successful managers are tough when it comes to getting the resources and budget needed for their people to succeed. If you are weaker than your peers they will sell their ideas more easily and you will be left with only the remnants making it hard to create the needed environment for your team.

3. Be timely, tough and straightforward when it comes to bad news and criticism

Nobody likes to deliver bad news, and handling behavioural and performance issues is not easy even for an experienced manager. The problem is that the longer you leave it the harder it gets, so you must not procrastinate but must address these issues immediately. A capable manager is always straight with his people and does not waste time holding off dealing with day to day challenges. The sooner they are addressed the sooner they can be resolved.

James Tissot - Bad News (Oil on canvas); via Wikimedia Commons

4. Manage upwards to protect your people

Good managers ensure that they protect their people from above and keep management off their backs. It is every manager’s role to protect their people from politics and interference from above by ensuring that they deliver what is expected upwards. In the same way it is critical that managers take the flack if anything goes wrong in their area of responsibility, rather than letting their people take the heat from above. Successful managers pass on the kudos and hold on to the knocks from above.
It is your responsibility to fix issues in your team not the responsibility of someone else. “The buck stops with you”.

5. Pay people what they are worth

You don’t need to pay the highest wages in your company or in your industry but it is totally invalid to pay people the least that you can get away with. Compensation needs to be in line with industry and company standards, and should be used to reward individual and team performance “over and above the call of duty”. Money is not the only motivator but it should be realistic and equitable enough to not be an issue for your people. “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys”.

By Aaron Logan, taken at the Los Angeles Zoo; via Wikimedia Commons

6. Give clear directions and be specific

Too many managers see themselves as too important and too busy to spend the time making sure that their people have clear and well defined goals that are specific enough for people to get on with doing their job within their area of responsibility. You must make sure that your people do not have to “guess” as to what it is that you meant otherwise they could misinterpret and head off on tangents that are outside the scope of what is needed to meet team, division or corporate goals, or need to come back to you all the time for clarification.

7. Challenge your people to stretch beyond their current state

It is important that you encourage your people to take calculated risks by challenging them with projects and assignments that will make them step out of their comfort zones. Good people need not only to be kept busy, but they need to have challenging tasks to enable them to grow their skill sets and capabilities.

8. Keep your people informed with what is happening

Knowledge is power, but managers should not believe that they should grow their own personal power by knowing more about what is happening in the company than do their people. It is critical that people understand not only the corporate strategies that they are meant to help achieve, but that they also understand what is happening in the organisation that can have an impact on their ability to do their job well. It is significantly better that they hear the realities of what is happening from you rather than to get their information from the rumour mills around the coffee machines.

By Scott Penner; Admin team meeting; via Wikimedia Commons

9. Grow your people

If your people learn nothing new each year they can only do what they are already doing.
A strong manager will ensure that his people learn new skills and capabilities all the time to enable the team to grow in strength, no different to a sports team. A smart manager will also understand that the stronger his team, and the more successors he has in place, the more he will be well positioned for promotion.
Nothing pushes a manager up the ladder faster than the success of his subordinates.

10. Manage behaviour through values rather than policies and procedures

Very few people will read a policies and procedures manual before setting out on a task.
It is much more effective to have a set of values and behaviours that are strongly embedded in the team. Formalised and strongly policed policies and procedures can act as a barrier to innovation and creativity as they are generally designed to protect the status quo. A strong set of values also encourages a team to self-manage behaviour inconsistent with the team standards, rather than making this the sole responsibility of the manager.

via Wikimedia Commons

Successful managers exhibit a passion for the success of their people.

The question you need to ask yourself is “Would they follow me if I didn’t have the title?”



  1. Frank says:

    Les, good top 10! rgds, Frank

  2. margot says:

    Excellent article, I thoroughly enjoyed it!!! Are you hiring?????

  3. Thomas Baur says:

    lomg time no see, but you outline what is fully me belief to what I would expect from a good manager/leader.
    I may add that a good manager / leader should be authentic and have values he/she clearly articulates.
    Best regards

  4. leshayman says:

    Hi Thomas,
    Good to hear from you.
    I agree with you, and there are many more as well, and I have specifically written about “Integrity” in a separate blog piece. These were just 10 more chararcteristics beyond that.

  5. AJ says:

    Dear Les,
    I couldn’t have agreed more on this write up. As it happens to be , I had my own oppurtunity of working with a terrible boss (as per my interpretation) which presented me an oppurtunity to list out the qualities he had which I should never imbibe if I ever become a manager. The following are the qualities of a bad manager :
    1. Never appreciates your work
    2. Never makes you feel important
    3. Nurtures resources who bring coffee table talks to him
    4. Tries to hide information as more the ignorant the reportees are, easier it is to deal with them
    5. Doesn’t take care of new joinees and doesn’t have any development plans for them
    6. Allows so called good resources to bully submissive colleagues
    7. Is not fair in appraisals

    • leshayman says:

      Definitely does sound like a terrible manager, and definitely not behaviours that any manager should exhibit. The good thing is that we can learn as much from negative characteristics (as you have by determining never to be like this) as we learn from positive role models. It’s just unfortunate when one has to work for someone like this … hopefully not for long.

  6. Adriana says:

    Dear Mr. Hayman, I found more useful information in this article than in any management training I’ve been.

    Ref characteristic no 1: I’ve seen situations where in the same team some people needed responsibilities and some people felt lost when given responsibilities.

    My final conclusion was that a manager really needs to adapt and to give responsibilities to those who can handle responsibilities(and generally look for appreciation and recognition) and tasks to those who just wait for tasks to be given (and generally look in their job description).

    How would you see that? Thank you, Adriana

    • leshayman says:

      Adriana, it’s a tough one as I believe that you can only hand out tasks as a manager to very low level roles. Even then, as soon as you go any higher than first level management, you cannot keep handing out tasks, one after the other, but you must have people who you can help to understand what they are responsible for, and then mentor/coach them towards their success.
      I have a strong belief that if you select great people and you give them the chance to do great things, they will do great things. If a manager has to lead his people by allocating all their tasks, s/he has probably recruited badly and the people will never have a chance to think for themselves, and grow. Les

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