Every good manager wants to learn how to provide the best guidance and support for their team, but sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start. Management requires great leadership skills, delegation, and clear communication — but it also needs you to show empathy, support, and encouragement.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the qualities to strive for, and outline exactly how to be a good manager in a few clear steps.
What makes a great manager?
Most of us know what a bad boss looks like. Bad managers and poor leaders love micromanaging, avoiding issues, and taking all the credit. The best managers are the opposite and recognize the value in freedom, talking things over, and celebrating their team’s hard work.
Every good manager is different, but almost all of them display qualities and characteristics like:
- 👂 Great listening
- 💬 Clear and open communication
- 💚 Empathy and support
- 📺 Respect for work-life balance
- 👍 Effective leadership
- ⏰ Respect for everyone’s time and needs
- 🌈 Championing equality
- 🏆 Celebrating great work
Good managers can feel like gold dust — especially if you’ve had bad experiences before. It’s also tough to evaluate your own leadership qualities and work out where you fall on the scale.
We’re here to help show you that becoming an amazing leader is within your reach, whether you’re completely new to the role or want to change your management style for the better.
How to be a good manager in 14 steps
Even though we can share how to be a good manager, there’s no shortcut — you still have to put in the work. With that in mind, here are some of the best ways to become a more thoughtful, more effective manager to your team members:
1. Communicate clearly
Clear, honest, and open communication is at the heart of any great relationship, and that includes with your direct reports. If your communication skills are lacking, it’s hard for people to know exactly what you expect — leading to confusion and misunderstandings.
Understand what your goal is, and communicate what you want, need, or expect clearly. Encourage your team members to do the same. Use asynchronous communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to make managing remote teams easier, and to make communication faster and more concise.
2. Listen with purpose
The best managers don’t just hear what their team members say, but they actively listen and take it all in. Managers who don’t listen miss great opportunities, so make it a priority to listen with purpose.
Work on your listening skills by learning how to be a better listener. Put this into practice at every opportunity, and you’ll notice that you uncover more ideas, find roadblocks before they become major issues, and build closer relationships with your team members.
3. Set clear goals
Part of being a manager is setting goals for individuals and your whole team. Ineffective managers might skip this completely or set goals that are completely unreasonable. To be a great manager, you need to set goals that are clear, achievable, and motivating.
If you don’t already, make sure you set SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. This approach to goal setting makes you focus on what really matters and helps you set team goals that you can not only achieve but exceed expectations with.
4. Encourage a positive team culture
Every company has a culture, and within it every team does too. Your team culture often grows organically, but as a great manager, it’s part of your job to nurture it into something that everyone on your team is proud of.
Talk to your team members and ask them to share what their vision of a great work environment feels like. Model positive behaviors in your day-to-day work, have fun together by playing office games, and work together to build the team culture you’re looking for.
💡Want a shortcut to a better team experience? Here are 7 Polly tools that boost team culture.
5. Advocate for your team
Part of your role as a manager is to stand up for your team and advocate for them. Whether there are talks of cutting your budget at a manager meeting, or your boss is disappointed with some of the work your team has turned in, it’s up to you to support and promote your team members.
Work on your negotiation and communication skills, fight for the budget and resources you need, and be your direct reports’ biggest advocate.
6. Delegate tasks effectively
Managers are responsible for a lot of decision making and tasks, and you can’t do it all. This is where effective task delegation comes in. Learn how to delegate well, and not only free up more of your time to be a better manager but create opportunities for your direct reports to shine.
If you struggle with this, look for resources to help you sharpen your project management skills. Invest in tools and apps that make it easier to see at a glance what your tasks are, so you can assign and review them without it taking up too much of your time.
7. Encourage collaboration
Within a team, the manager often becomes the glue holding the team together. Bad managers can often drive people apart, while great managers are experts at identifying chances to bring people closer together.
Create opportunities to bring the whole team together to brainstorm ideas, plan projects, or simply to have fun. Play virtual team building games to get to know everyone better, host hackathons to tackle big picture goals, and encourage your team members to grab a (virtual) coffee together to forge new connections.
8. Be flexible
One essential part of learning how to be a good manager is knowing when to be flexible. People get sick, their internet dies, and they can run into all kinds of unexpected problems in their work and personal lives. As a great manager, you’re able to be flexible and find workarounds to help everyone stay calm and work through personal or professional challenges.
Flexibility is a must-have skill when it comes to remote management. With different time zones, cultures, and routines, your ability to adapt and respond in a constructive way is a huge benefit. Offer your direct reports extra time and flexibility when they need it, and build space into your plans and deadlines so you can continue working without too much disruption.
9. Get to know your team
You can’t be a good manager if you don’t know your team members. If you can’t remember fun little quirks about your direct reports, or you’re not sure what their favorite way to receive praise is, this is your reminder to understand them better.
Getting to know each other isn’t just part of your onboarding process — it’s an ongoing effort. Make time to schedule one-on-one chats with your team members so you can learn more about them as individuals. Get to know who they are outside of work, what circumstances allow them to do their best work, and how you can be a better manager to them. These conversations are a wonderful way to build inclusivity and make more introverted employees feel welcome.
10. Promote feedback
We can’t improve if we don’t know what’s wrong. The best managers encourage their team members to be generous with feedback and ask questions prompting them to share their concerns and questions. They also offer it in return. This cycle of feedback promotes growth, innovation, and better employee experiences.
Introduce different ways for your direct reports to share feedback with you. Run employee engagement surveys, host an Open Forum, and use our Manager Feedback polly template. Recognize that it’s not always easy to raise issues with managers, and direct them to resources like our guide on how to give your boss feedback.
Giving and receiving feedback should be at the center of any great manager-report relationship. Learn more about how Polly helps to create systems of continuous feedback, and why this can transform the way you work together.
11. Be supportive
Poor managers can be unsupportive at times, or even damaging. A good leader knows to regularly check in with their team members, be available when they’re needed, and offer support and guidance, especially during challenging times.
Get to know your team members and make sure they know they can approach you for help. Promote health and wellbeing initiatives, help your team members know how to recognize the signs of burnout, ask what they need help with, and encourage your direct reports to log off at a reasonable time.
12. Empower your team to do their best
Effective leaders know how to get the best from their teams. Unlike regular managers, they’re excited about empowering their direct reports to achieve the best success that they can.
Encourage your team members to do their best, and support them to find, develop, and excel at the tasks they’re best at. Give them time to attend training programs, create opportunities for team members to learn from one another, and make time for fun ways to practice collaboration. Use performance reviews as an opportunity to understand their goals and desires, so you can coach them towards them.
13. Embrace professional development
Whether you’re a first time manager or an experienced leader, there’s always something new to learn. Understanding how to be a good manager isn’t a process with an end, but one that continues throughout your journey.
Evaluate where you stand now and which areas you can improve on. Enroll in classes or training programs on time management skills, emotional intelligence, or whichever areas you and your team can grow the most in. Give your own career development as much attention as that of your direct reports. Put your new skills to use and continue to pursue professional development as your experience as a manager grows.
14. Celebrate great work
Being a great manager is all about celebrating the success of the people around you. Your team puts in hard work, and it’s only right to express gratitude and pride for what they do.
Ask your team members how they like to be celebrated, and tailor your congratulations accordingly. A few ways to acknowledge them are to start your team meetings with a section for good news, and create your own staff awards that your team will be excited about.
Learn how to be a good manager and leader
Becoming a better manager isn’t always easy. It takes time, dedication, and a real passion for wanting to become the best possible leader and supporter of your direct reports. While it can be challenging, being a good manager is incredibly rewarding.
Use these tips on how to be a good manager to level up your management and leadership game. Invest in your professional development, build better relationships with your team members, and find better ways to communicate and set goals.
When you’re ready to make your management experience even better, let Polly help your team communicate clearly, have fun together, and connect.
Written by Nicola Scoon
Nicola Scoon is a freelance writer that's passionate about employee engagement and better workplace experiences. She draws on her experience in internal communications to help companies create content that empowers, encourages, and motivates people to create better experiences for all.