The "3-5 traits of a great manager" question

Back when I had a LinkedIn account, I’d see a familiar question populate my inbox from recruiters looking to fill engineering manager positions. In fact, I saw this question so often that I finally decided to answer it…sort of.

What would you say are 3-5 traits every great manager must possess?

My cop-out answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m still learning and am still a relatively young manager, making mistakes, adjusting, repeat.

But maybe that’s a path towards articulating important traits of a manager. Perhaps a good manager must not be rigid. A good manager should be able to benefit from the continuous feedback loop that naturally exists, and make adjustments in response.

Though getting candid feedback from your direct reports is…tricky. So perhaps a good manager must be able to make his or her direct reports feel comfortable sharing this feedback. This may not always be possible, so a good manager must be able to “read between the lines”, “take the temperature of the room”, “look for patterns” and various other detective tasks.

But being a good manager probably isn’t as simple as feeding inputs into an algorithm to produce an output of a progressively better manager. So, there must be something else. I suppose a good manager must be confident, have solid intuition. She will have to trust her gut from time to time. Having the confidence and experience to do that also contributes to the success of a manager.

Additionally, a good manager should be able to earn the respect of her direct reports. She should understand the work her direct reports must complete on a daily basis, and must be able to complete this work herself. She must be able to serve as a model for her direct reports. She leads by example in every possible way, all the time. Surely, this is not overly common, but then neither are great managers, are they?

And finally, as I think I have demonstrated throughout this message: a good (maybe even a great) manager is self-aware. He might not always be correct. His perspective is not necessarily “gospel”. He realizes that there is more than one answer. When he guides his direct reports, he does so by “planting seeds” instead of transforming them into clones of himself. He is suggestive and thought-provoking instead of demanding.

And I do hope this was thought provoking for you.

Written on July 12, 2021