Learning and Development
5 min read

What makes a great manager: 13 exemplary behaviors

Alexis Croswell

Alexis Croswell

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Having a great manager often feels like having a good coach. A coach looks out for their team members, works with people to cultivate skills and reach goals, and celebrates success together. A great manager also shows employees that they care about them, and makes sure they feel valued. 

As HR Expert, Seema Desai says, “You have someone's career in your hands, and it’s your job to take that seriously and encourage their growth.” For managers, being a good coach might come naturally, or it may be a skill they need to learn. 

Studies by Google and research by Culture Amp confirm that coaching and caring are two of the 11 essential traits of great managers. Here, we share 13 behaviors of great managers based on our research. 

1. Use one-on-one meetings for development

One-on-one meetings are a vital part of the team member-manager relationship. It’s where team members get individualized attention, and the manager can provide coaching. Being a good manager means finding the right balance of developing team members on an individual level and keeping the team on track to meet goals. Using open-ended questions during one-on-one meetings is a way for managers to learn more about their team members’ goals for development. 

See our list of 24 great one-on-one meeting questions to use in your next meeting, written by Culture Amp People Scientist, Chloe Hamman. 

2. Discuss your employee’s preference for dates and times of one-on-one meetings

Show employees that you value open conversation by planning meeting dates and times with their input. This demonstrates you care about their work-life balance and making time to communicate. If you have a distributed team (especially one that crosses time zones), this is particularly valuable. Follow up on this discussion by keeping meetings consistent and timely.

3. Encourage team members to problem solve proactively

For reasons of time or skill, managers can sometimes feel a need to solve people’s problems for them. Good managers challenge people to come up with solutions rather than using their managerial status to make executive decisions. While this may initially mean a slower path to a solution, it contributes greatly to people’s personal growth and development. Culture Amp People Scientist Chloe Hamman says, “Asking someone how they might solve a problem forces them to focus on the situation more closely than if they had been given an answer.” This exercise can even change the way our brain processes being asked to do something differently (like problem solve). We tend to be more motivated to follow through with ideas that we have come up with ourselves.

4. Reward employees after a long project or big achievement

It’s important to demonstrate that you appreciate and value people’s effort at the end of a major project. Offer employees an extra vacation day after a long project or big achievement. This gives them time to celebrate success and recharge for the next task. If a full day isn’t possible, a half day or extra long lunch period can also be great rewards.

5. Host a rapid feedback session

To show appreciation for employees and give positive feedback, a quick session can easily make everyone feel valued by their peers. Have individuals (or teams for a larger organization) write their name on a piece of paper and tape it to a wall. Employees then write what they most admire about each person on a post it, and add it to that individual’s paper. This can be an exciting way for employees to learn what others value about them and how they can best support each other.

6. Create a user manual for people’s preferred communication approaches

During their first month on the job, work with new people to fill out a communication-focused user manual. The manual includes a set of instructions on how employees prefer to interact and communicate. Example prompts include, “What is your preferred method of communication?” and “How do you handle interruptions?” Discussing these topics shows people that you are invested in finding the best way to communicate with them and care about their preferences. Sharing these manuals throughout your team allows everyone to see how they can best collaborate.

7. Use this formula to provide powerful employee recognition

Dr. Laura Delizonna, Founder and Trainer at Choosing Happiness provided this powerful formula to leaders at the Motley Fool. When giving recognition, she suggests framing it in a particular way: “I saw what you did (insert specific thing), here’s what it meant for me/my team (insert impact) and this is what it says about you (insert positive trait).” This specificity creates greater impact for employees, showing them that they have been seen and appreciated.

8. Have an honest conversation about future career goals

In order to have an honest conversation about career goals, acknowledge that not everyone will stay at your company forever. As a manager, supporting your employee’s career trajectory shows that you are invested in their lifelong success. Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga says, "Authenticity and a genuine desire to see people succeed breeds loyalty. I want Culture Amp to be the dream job for our people, but if it’s not, I want it to be their stepping stone to a dream job."

9. Find a balance between teaching and facilitating

The key to being a good manager is knowing when to teach and when to facilitate. Teaching typically involves telling, or giving someone answers based on your knowledge. Facilitating is more about asking questions to help someone come up with their own answer, helping them be proactive. Good managers can do both, and know when to use one or the other. There are times where you will need to share some expertise and teach, and others when you need to only ask questions and facilitate self-discovery.

10. Publicly recognize employees during team meetings

At a cadence that feels right for the size of your team and frequency of team meetings, highlight a team member who has gone above and beyond. You could ask them to share how they achieved success so that the whole team can learn. Be sure to provide praise in a way that allows for multiple definitions of achievement - from smashing goals to uncovering valuable lessons.

11. Send care packages when someone is unwell

People can feel guilty for being out of the office due to sickness. Sending them a care package or even a card encourages them to focus on getting better, rather than feeling guilty or stressed about missing work. They’ll know you’re thinking about them and genuinely care about their wellbeing.

12. Give effective feedback

Effective employee feedback is timely, specific and focused on future behaviors. This is true whether the feedback provided by managers is positive or critical. Good managers also take the time to prepare for giving feedback and are conscious of how the mindset of the receiver will influence how feedback is accepted. When managers give team members feedback they can learn from, they’re more likely to view the feedback process positively and grow as a result. Contact us at Culture Amp to learn how to get the feedback you want and need.