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What Makes A Good Manager?

What makes a good manager?

Recently a friend of mine was reflecting on the best manager he ever had.

“While I’ve been self-employed most of my life, in those seasons where I worked for a company, Denise Birling was the best manager I ever had.

The best way I can describe Denise’s leadership is that she stayed close enough to keep her finger on the pulse, but far enough away so as not to breathe down your neck. She stayed connected to every member of her team without stifling or suffocating them.

While we were one group, she understood we were each different personalities. We all had different reasons for working there. For some, it was a hopeful career track with that company. For some, a job while a spouse finished graduate school. For others, a bridge on the road to our ultimate destination.

There was no “one size fits all” approach. Denise dialed in on our respective individual goals and customized our motivation. I remember my first meeting with her. She didn’t talk at all about her goals or what she wanted to accomplish. She asked about mine. Why was I there? What did I want to achieve?

I answered, “Just tell me what I need to do to get the bonus.”

She did.

And I did.

Because she helped each of us accomplish our individual goals, our team easily accomplished our group goals. In fact, we crushed it. So much that the company took note and made changes because of our success.

As he shared his experience under Denise, it reminded me of the best boss I ever worked for, Bill Yarger. The same characteristics that Denise embodied – a focus on her employees’ goals, clarity around group goals, the balance between freedom and oversight – marked my time under Bill.

He demonstrated to me two profound leadership practices: first of all the importance of having a “critical eye without a critical spirit” – that is, he expected excellence, but his approach was always positive and future-oriented, and secondly, “leaders see everything, but they don’t say everything” – he had the ability to have his finger on the pulse of all the vital information he needed to help us stay on track, but he never micro-managed my work.

Like my friend, I’ve mainly worked for myself or headed-up teams during my career. But when I worked for Bill, I loved going to work every day and knew that he was helping me make a difference in our organization.