How to Be a Good Manager: 5 Great Actionable Steps

Learn how to be a good manager with 5 great actionable tips you can implement immediately

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So, being a manager is not enough: you want to be a good manager. Here we present valuable tips on how to be a good manager. Note that we are talking about how to be a good manager, and now how to become a good manager. We use “be” on purpose, because in management you can’t do something to become good and then sit on that indefinitely. No, it is something you must do consistently, day in and day out.

What Does it Mean “To Be a Good Manager?”

Before we can start discussing how to be a good manager, let’s set some ground rules. What does “being a good manager” really mean? Heck, what does it mean to manage, and what does it mean to be good about it?

We can find many definitions on management out there. Yet, the consensus is around the concept defined by Peter Drucker, a famous business consultant and academic. Not the average guy, one of the leading thinkers on business management in the last centuries. The definition goes like this:

Management is about doing things right; leadership is about doing the right things.

Doing things right means that you accomplish whatever you set yourself to do. If you plan to do your laundry on Saturday morning, then you make sure laundry gets done at that time. You make sure you launder all the clothes in your dirty clothes bag, that you promptly hang everything to dry, and the next day you iron what needs to be ironed, fold everything, and put the clothes in the cupboard and wardrobe. That may sound simple, but the same concept applies to larger business problems with minimal change.

Management is about ensuring a big piece of work is segmented into doable actions, and then ensuring that those actions get done in the proper order, at the proper time. Even that is not enough, management ensures those actions produce the outcomes you were expecting (do you want to do the activity “jump off the plane” if the activity “test the parachute” failed? Yeah, I didn’t think so).

Being a good manager means you do all of that properly. It means things do not fall through the cracks. I would even dare to say it means there are no cracks. You can even go beyond that, and say that good management is about effectiveness and efficiency. You want to do all those activities, but not waste resources in doing so.

Now that we set the context for the discussion, let’s see the tips on how to be a good manager.

How To Be a Good Manager

Unlike other guides on good management that give you yes-man tips like “listen”, “protect the team” or “create a positive environment”, here we talk about actionable tips. That is, you will know what to do after you read them, and you will have specific actions to perform.

I designed this guide with the service industry in mind (that is, office jobs), but with some tweaks it can apply to any sort of job, from the suit-and-tie corporation to the shopfloor and even to the military.

1. Open Communication (Culture of Transparency)

The first step on how to be a good manager is to ensure the people you manage are efficient and effective. A main blocker to that is when people don’t have the information they need to do their job. On top of this, it is hard to appraise if people are doing a good job if you are unsure about what they are doing, when, and why.

So, you need to be open with communication and expect everyone to do the same. There are two main ways for this in the modern workspace: group chats and email distribution list.

A group chat is a chat where everyone in your team has access, and can read and post messages. Teams has Teams and group chats, Slack has channels, and any other platforms has something similar. The idea is simple: put all your team in the same (virtual) room and have them chat about things. When there is an announcement, post it here. Instead of having a system where people ask for help to individuals, make them ask in the group “Hey, can anyone help me with X?”. However, don’t substitute this for lack of planning or ownership. As a manager, you don’t want to ask in the group “Hey, who is working on this?” – you should know it.

If you want to know how to be a good manager, you will need to know how to practice open communication
Open communication is about being very explicit and signal what you expect, and make everyone do the same.

Distribution lists are something similar, but with email. They are a special email address that mirrors any received mail to a group of people, and that would be your team. Instill the habit to always CC that distribution list, or DL, whenever anyone sends any type of communication. Don’t be afraid of information overload, people can always use email rules to filter out noise.

Expect people to be transparent, and be transparent in turn. If someone forgets to copy the distribution list, speak with them privately and forward the email to the distribution list. In this way, people know there is no way something will be hidden to the wider team, and will have no incentive to keep avoiding the DL.

2. Individual Owners Only

If you are into management readings, you will know about the tragedy of the commons. That is any situation in which the interests of the individual are in conflict with the ones of the group, and eventually all individuals are worse off.

For example, imagine there is a public park in the neighborhood and everyone in the community is expected to make donations to maintain the park. There is nobody checking that you make a donation when you enter the park, so anyone is free to use it. People would rather use the park and not pay the donation. Yet, if all do like that, eventually the park will fall in disrepair and they will no longer be able to go there, leading to a worse outcome for all.

In business, we see the exact same thing. Lack of accountability means you are set up for failure. So, implement accountability. That is simple, each activity that needs to be done must have one single owner. Not two, not a group: just one. Of course, if you are manager-of-managers you can assign an activity to a manager reporting to you, and she can then split it into smaller activities among her reports. But the point is simple: one activity = one owner.

Don’t fall in the trap of having “secondary owners” or “backup owners” or “two-persons jobs”. If something is too big, split it into multiple activities and assign each to the proper owner.

In this way, there are no excuses. Everyone knows what he needs to deliver, and he knows everyone is expecting him to do it. If you make this extremely public, according to our transparency role above, there should be a place (a file, a board, whatever) where everyone can see who is working on what.

3. Remove Dependencies

Now that you have single owners you are on the tracks on how to become a manager. But individual and specific owners are not enough to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the team. To say it in other words, even with individual owners things can fall apart.

This is because the modern world has complex problems, and finding solution require collaboration across individuals, teams, and even different organizations. Even if an owner owns something, that something is likely to rely on the output of some other teams. You want to limit that as much as possible, even eliminate it if you can.

The idea is simple. Imagine you have to bake a cake, but Joe has to go buy all the ingredients at the supermarket first. However, Joe has other priorities, and can’t pass by the supermarket today. You may say “Well, not my fault, I was just supposed to make a cake”. While technically correct, there is a big problem in this picture: the cake didn’t get done.

It’s the same in business. Who owns a business outcome should have the resources to deliver it, that is, own all the little pieces that make the business outcome possible. That is not always feasible, but for the most part it is. For example, if instead you are baking a cake you are assembling a low-orbit satellite, you may found that you just can’t do by yourself a component that comes from a specialized supplier.

How to be a good manager? Remove dependencies!
The more dependencies you have, the more your project will look like a house of cards, where everything can fall apart any moment.

You can’t eliminate all dependencies, but you can eliminate most dependencies. For the ones that you cannot eliminate, you want to track them precisely and define who owns those. Those people will own other things as well, so you can start a prioritization discussion with them. For this discussion to work, you want to be sure everyone understands the north star goal of the company, so all can agree on a common framework for prioritization.

4. Use Checklists

Let’s now move to a more practical tip on how to be a good manager. Checklists. Checklists everywhere, anytime, for anyone. You probably know this already, but a checklist is just a list of typically small things you have to do. As you progress through it, you tick off the ones you completed.

Checklists have two superpowers. On one side, they break down the work into small doable items that you can address in a couple of hours. On the other hand, they make the work visible, both to you and to others. And that’s not only about the work you are doing: also the work you are planning to do. Furthermore, if you archive checklists in a place that is accessible to everyone, people will see the work you did (and the one you didn’t).

This is perfectly in line with the culture of transparency you need and that is part of how to become a good manager. Yet, it goes beyond just that. With checklists that everyone can see and use, people can have a say on how other people are prioritizing the work, and you can spark an open discussion around that. This helps you to ensure the dependencies you can’t remove are addressed properly.

Checklists are an important tool for any good manager
Checklists ensure you get things done. And bring satisfaction.

Checklists (when visible to everyone) are great for dependencies because, if you depend on other people, you can see if they are prioritizing the work you need them to prioritize. If not, you can start discussing about it or escalate higher in the command chain to someone who owns both teams and can be the decision-maker.

I personally use Microsoft Planner, but Trello is also a popular choice for checklists.

5. Use Metrics (with Owners)

Metrics are the last tool we present on how to be a good manager today. As a manager, you will have to manage projects (or change), and operations: keeping the lights on, keep the business running. Here, you want to measure if your business is running smoothly, and understand how smooth it is running. Metrics are the tool for that.

Metrics can be any value that you can constantly measure about your business. They can be revenue, products sold, average shipping time, conversion rate, customer turnover, seat occupation in an airline, and much more. If it is something you can plot on a line chart, then it is probably a good metric.

Spend some time to identify what are the metrics that define the health of your business and that you want to monitor. Then, set up a weekly or monthly meeting to review them, and assign an owner to each metric. That person is responsible of reporting on that metric, but also to ensure that metric is within acceptable range. So, he needs to have the tools to alter that metric. For example, the head of logistics may be the right person to account for average shipping times, while the head of marketing for the conversion rate, but not vice versa.

Metrics can be broken down. At senior leadership level you will have large metrics for the entire company. Then, each department head will break down the metrics she is reporting on and assign those to her team members. They, in turn, will break their metrics further down and pass them along the chain. But in short, every metric has an individual owner. I think this pattern sounds familiar, right?

How to Be a Good Manager in Summary

If you want to know how to be a good manager, you should know there is a long way to go. And that road never ends, you can always be a better manager. However, being a good manager is all about effectiveness and efficiency.

If you follow these actionable tips, and spend some time to ensure there is a culture of transparency, with individual owners and with no dependencies, you will be probably better off than most organizations. Now, if you want to document ownership properly, you can use a RACI matrix – learn more about it here. Or, consider even RACI matrix alternatives.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio