Five factors that make a good boss

Great managers are like gold dust. A study by the research and consultancy company Gallup found that only about one in ten workers have the right qualities – and 82% of the time, companies promote the wrong person.

But Gallup also found that another one in five people have managerial talents and could become high performers if their companies invested in training. So what are some of the qualities you need to be a good manager – or to look for in the boss of your next team? We sought out some expert advice to find out.

They understand their team’s unique qualities

After studying 80,000 managers and closely following a few high performers, author and consultant Marcus Buckingham says the difference with great management is like playing chess instead of checkers. Their teams aren’t full of interchangeable pieces – every person has unique qualities, and the manager finds strategies to use them.

“Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack,” he writes in Harvard Business Review. “Great managers don’t try to change a person’s style. They never try to push a knight to move in the same way as a bishop.”

They don’t micromanage

Getting the balance right on how much to supervise workers is tricky. At one point, Google tried eliminating managers altogether, but that experiment soon failed. Now, after an extensive analysis of the best-performing managers in the company, it set out a few principles on how to manage well and empower your staff.

Make it clear that you trust your team and build a culture of accountability. Delegate work. Balance giving freedom with being available for advice. Advocate for the team in the wider organisation. One Googler described a successful management culture: “She lets people run with ideas but knows when to step in and offer advice to not pursue a failing issue.”

They work on their own skills 

Great bosses don’t just understand their team’s unique qualities. According to Harvard Business School’s Professor Linda A. Hill and executive coach Kent Lineback, they constantly work on themselves to ensure they are up to the job.

They suggest looking at your own development as a boss just as you would draw up a business plan. “Set personal goals. Solicit feedback from others. Take advantage of company training programs. Create a network of trusted advisers, including role models and mentors. Use your strengths to seek out developmental experiences,” they say.

They’re assertive 

No one likes an overbearing boss, but good managers need to be able to stand up for themselves and their teams to get things done. Gallup’s extensive study of the qualities required of good bosses found that “they have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance”.

Fortunately, business confidence can be learned, says Ian Burke, director of “The skill of being assertive is absolutely crucial: communicating your opinions, standing up for what you believe in but listening to others in a fair, balanced manner, too,” he tells the Institute of Management.

They don’t play politics

The Gallup research also found that good managers inspire trust in their teams by making decisions based on productivity, not politics. For Travis Bradberry, founder of the Talentsmart consultancy, this quality means that good bosses share knowledge generously instead of being secretive to boost their own power.

“They don’t lie to cover up their mistakes, and they don’t make false promises. Their people don’t have to exert energy trying to figure out their motives or predicting what they’re going to do next,” he says.