A 3 part framework for great managers

A few friends and I discussed great managers recently. There’s plenty of literature on this. But, I find myself frustrated when I see lists of the 435 characteristics of great leaders/managers/employees. We generally don’t remember more than 3 things. So, I sought to boil it all down to 3 characteristics.

After a bit of discussion, we ended up at the following framework that characterizes great managers –

  1. Great managers understand each member of the team. Every member needs to be managed differently. This requires an understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, personalities, working styles and motivation. The first pre-requisite is, thus, empathy.
  2. Great managers learn how to scope work well. The worst managers over-promise to their higher ups/clients and burn their teams by making them work 12+ hour days to achieve unrealistic, unproductive and generally unnecessary results. And, on the other hand, great managers scope work such that their team is regularly in the “stretch” zone and never in the “panic” zone. The ability to scope work is a learned skill. It also requires guts as it necessitates pushing back and saying no to unnecessary work.
  3. Outstanding managers care more about their team’s goals and individual ambitions than their own progress. While characteristics 1 and 2 make good managers great, an outstanding manager is one who simply cares a lot more than the next person. When you work with outstanding managers, you believe know that they always have your best interests in mind. And, even when you are going through difficult times as a team, you know that they care more about the team’s goals than their own.

We rarely come across managers who do all 3 things well. But, as a wiser friend pointed out, if you do 3 well / care more about the team, you are forgiven for not scoping work well.

There is, however, no escaping really understanding every member of the team.

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