Recently I was training a group of men and women who had become managers for the first time within the last year.
Someone asked, “What are the most important qualities of really good managers.”
I answered almost instinctively with five qualities. They were what popped to the top of my head immediately.
As I neared the end of the list, I realized that every quality which I had mentioned started with the letter “C.” Here’s the list, from C” to shining C.
A century ago, most books on how to be successful centered on the character of good leaders. Over the course of the 20th century, that theme receded into the background. By the 1970s success literature focused primarily on skill-sets required to be successful. And that emphasis carried over into literature on leadership and management.
Warren Bemis was one of the first to restore an emphasis on character to leadership literature. In his pioneering works, he argued that character was the most significant attribute of successful leaders. More recently, studies at Harvard concluded that 80% of a manager’s success is directly related to his or her quality of character.
After the massive corporate scandals at Enron and elsewhere which opened the century, an emphasis on character became more wide-spread. The emphasis is not yet as prominent as I think it should be. But at least it’s once more a serious part of the conversation.
I could build the case, I believe, that courage may be the single most important quality of great leaders. And it equally qualifies as one of the most critical components of great management.
In terms of leadership, many of the most impactful leaders in history have not necessarily been people of stellar character. But they have all demonstrated notable courage.
For managers, the need for courage comes into play frequently.
- They may be required to implement and enforce corporate policies and procedures which are highly unpopular. Or even policies and procedures with which they personally disagree.
- They may have to contend with upset workers who would in fact be far less upset if the manager was free to share certain confidential information with them.
- Managers may have to take firm stances against the preferences of workers who are good friends.
In a word, management is not a place for those who are faint of heart. Courage is mandatory.
We are born with an innate sense that things should be fair. As soon as children can talk, they begin voicing complaints about the actions of a sibling or the decision of a parent as being unfair.
This sense of fair play flows naturally into attitudes at work. Managers who are inconsistent in how they apply the rules or who show favoritism in their decision-making quickly become labeled as inconsistent. Any behavior which smacks of hypocrisy is also seen as inconsistency. And charges of hypocrisy and inconsistency invariably impair a manager’s reputation and influence.
This does not mean that managers can always be consistent. Privileged information or other factors may compel them to treat two similar situations differently. Wherever possible, however, managers should strive for consistency. Failure to do so will likely harm vital working relationships.
To maximize their effectiveness, managers need to be trusted. And the heart of trustworthiness is credibility. A manager’s character must be credible. His or her competence must be credible. And the manager’s decision-making ability must clearly be credible.
When managers have high credibility, workers give them more latitude for mistakes than is otherwise the case. Most workers want to be part of a winning team, which means that they want a manager who is a winner. As a result, if they see their manager as highly credible, they will make allowances for an occasional managerial misstep.
When I was writing my book Leadership and the Power of Trust, I came across a study made across 100 companies in a broad array of industries. The study aimed at isolating the factors which workers use in deciding whether to trust their company.
The number two response from workers was, “A manager who really cares for me.” If their manager genuinely cared for them, they tended to see the company as caring. They projected the manager’s attitude on the entire organization.
We live in a world where people are part of fewer and fewer circles where they regularly experience caring concern. Families today are far-flung geographically. Neighborhoods are merely collections of isolated households. Weekly engagement in church or synagogue activities is nearing historic lows. People can increasingly count on one hand the number of people perceived as truly caring for them.
In that kind of world, a manager’s caring concern leaves a marked impression. Worker’s respond with appreciation and loyalty. And in most cases, they up their game in order to meet their manager’s expectations.
So there we have it. From C to shining C. Five vital attributes of great managers: Character, Courage, Consistency, Credibility, and Caring Concern.