Are You a Good Manager? How Can You Tell?

What makes a good manager? Is it something you’re born with, or something you learn? Is there management instinct? I don’t know for sure. I’ve been in business for more than 30 years now, and I still don’t know.

A few years ago I was trapped on a plane with nothing to read but The One-Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. It was written in 1982, and still sells very well today, according to ranking, even 26 years later. It’s in the top 2,000 books.

It was a short plane trip, and an easy book to read. It seemed about like this:

Make expectations specific. Tell people what’s expected. Follow up. Track results. Tell people afterwards how they did.

Several things struck me about that:

  1. Completely obvious, but
  2. still very valuable.
  3. Some things that seem completely obvious, once said (or written) still needed to be said (or written).
  4. Authors deserve special credit for keeping a simple book short. This one was easy to read in a one-hour flight.

I’ve never been much of a manager myself. That’s no big deal, of course; lots of people aren’t managers. In my case, though, people expected me to be, because I’ve had a lifetime of successful entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship and management are different things.

I don’t think I’m alone. I’ve just been browsing the site. Small and simple books like that one sell lots of copies to lots of people. Who Moved My Cheese?, another that fits that description, sells phenomenally well. It’s in the top 300 at

What makes a good manager? Is it confidence, relative certainty, good communications skills, comfort with authority? I just read How to Be a Great Boss on a blog ironically named “Dumb Little Man.” And it’s a good list, too, but not surprising. Standard stuff: listen, communicate, say “Thank You.” And this one: bring food and arrange treats. What is this, kids’ soccer?

Thinking about it, I want to ask the experts some questions back: what makes a good manager?

  1. Is it getting things done?
  2. Getting other people to get things done?
  3. Is it doing the company’s bidding?
  4. Being well liked?
  5. Advancing your own career?
  6. Inspiring people, or leading them?
  7. Coordinating a team?
  8. Is a good manager able to do the work instead?
  9. Do you have to know how to code to manage programmers?

And some really fundamental questions: is a good manager liked, hated, respected, feared, or all or none of these? Is it possible to lead people to higher productivity and the greater good of the business while being disliked? Is it possible to do that while being universally liked? Does a good manager have friends, allies, enemies, bosses, underlings, followers, or minions?

Is it about carrots and sticks, or both?


  • The Blog Week in Review — 9/3/09 says:

    […] Are You a Good Manager? How Can You Tell? — Tim Berry poses some questions to think about in trying to determine what makes a good leader. […]

  • diana says:

    Why do you say management and entrepreneurship are two different things?? I am really curious about it….


    • Tim Berry says:

      Diana, I’m sorry, I was hoping that my post here explained why I say that. I guess not, but that’s the best I’ve got.

  • Proper Care and Feeding of People Who Cry Wolf says:

    […] August I posted Are You a Good Manager? How Can You Tell on this blog. I think I know one element of good manager: taking care of the people who cry wolf. […]

  • umeadi says:

    The motive of every business venture is to make profit therefore a good manager is one who makes sure that his/her company makes more money and not violetting the ethics of the business and the laws of the land.

  • Masha says:

    I agree with the respect for your employees can do wonders for the growth of the company and makes your life easier as a manager. It’s also about bringing the best talents of each of your employees to the table and refusing the not so good suggestions without trampling their egos or confidence. If you’re not sharp enough to understand this and give other people a chance to shine you should think twice being a manager or hiring a manager. I saw one of these big department stores has some questions posed for potential employees. I took that test. They said there is no openings at this time. And I knew exactly why. Their question was, when a customer walk in should you smile and say hi! or would you ask them how can we help you? And there were some other dumb answers as well. I answered smile and say hi!. And wrong answer to them. The answer is you should ask them how may I help you. Something which annoy me like no other. I think these so called experts should first do a survey with real people before pose these dumb questions for employees. And there were more questions that I thought absolutely ridiculous. But then that’s the company’s culture. Managing people is one of the hardest and should be done very carefully without damaging the confidence. And also there are some which never can be satisfied.

  • rob says:

    As a private project manager I’ve been hired to organize a few jobs that I really didn’t know very much about. I’ve been able to achieve what I like to consider a relative amount of success by relying on the expertise of my team and making sure they understand the objectives and time lines of the job. Each team leader lays out what they and their team will need to have and do to complete the job, then a plan of attack is organized and implemented. After that I simply become a facilitator between the different departments making sure that each individual has what they need to get their job done on time.
    I’ve found that letting them know right up front that they know more about their jobs than I do fosters respect because they feel respected and that is returned because they recognize I know my limitations.
    It’s very interesting managing a team that is way smarter than you are.
    I also have found rewards to be very helpful, though I’ve never used food rewards. Recognition, small gifts, time off, or monetary rewards seem to work the best.

  • The Blog Week in Review — 9/3/09 | Business in General says:

    […] Blog Week in Review — 9/3/09 Are You a Good Manager? How Can You Tell? — Tim Berry poses some questions to think about in trying to determine what makes a good […]

  • What Makes A Good Manager? - Business Opportunities Weblog says:

    […] I’ve never been much of a manager myself. That’s no big deal, of course; lots of people aren’t managers. In my case, though, people expected me to be, because I’ve had a lifetime of successful entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship and management are different things. Stated on […]

  • 3-Step Recipe for Not Delegating. Be a Bad Manager. says:

    […] Business Management, advice I posted here yesterday about what makes a good manager. I asked whether you are a good manager, and how you […]

  • Strategic Growth Advisors says:

    Hey, Tim. Thanks for the nice post.

    In my own point of view, becoming a good manager is a continuous process. It is not a feat that can be achieved in a month or a year or even a decade. Everyday is an opportunity to polish what mistakes we may have committed yesterday as a manager.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    The tips on Dumb Little Man are good, except for the food reward one. I don’t agree with that. Parents reward toddlers with cookies and I find it offensive when people do that as adults. It also feels incredibly cheap when I know my manager gets a nice bonus and his direct reports get pizza or a round of drinks after work.

    I don’t think you have to know the intricacies of every job in order to manage the people doing it, but I do think you have to know enough that you can put yourself in their shoes and understand their concerns and their issues. If you don’t know anything about computers beyond how to turn one on and use Microsoft Office you probably shouldn’t manager a software development team. If your accounting experience is limited to Excel and Quicken, don’t try to manage an accounting department.

    Every employee’s job is to respond to the needs of the business, but a good manager also balances the needs of the people in prioritizing goals and requests. A good manager gets things done, inspires her direct reports to also get things done, and knows enough about each person’s job to understand concerns and relay them to others as needed.

    You don’t send the guy terrified of heights to install new cabling in the warehouse rafters even if your Gantt chart shows that’s who is available. You don’t continually give the same person all the legacy application maintenance unless that’s specifically what he was hired for. You don’t always back down from giving people tough assignments you know they won’t like, either.

    The best manager I have had was a leader, respectful of me, and open to suggestions. We were friendly at work but we didn’t hang out outside of work, and I think there was tremendous mutual respect. I was given direction and autonomy, rewarded when I did well and corrected when I didn’t. She was the manager of the Kroger fish department where I worked while in college.

  • Dan Levine says:

    Tim, you always make us think! In my experience (and I’m talking only 15 years out in the real world as opposed to your 30) good management is about respect – both ways. Respect for those you manage and in turn, their respect for you. I’ve learned that you don’t always have to agree with your manager. In fact, you don’t even have to like her (no one says you need to go have beers with your boss after work). But for a relationship to work at its highest capacity, there needs to be a mutual respect (and I believe that’s true of all relationships, not just work relationships). She needs to respect your work and time and you need to respect her decisions and advice. Bottom line for managers: if you don’t have your employees respect, you’ve lost.

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