4 attributes of a great manager: What I’ve learned from strong leaders

Writing about management is tricky. Strong leaders are humble, and humility doesn’t lend itself to long tracts about management style. That said, here are a few attributes I’ve seen great managers demonstrate, and those I try to emulate.

1) Set a clear vision, and motivate people around it.

We spend a lot of time at work, and we want our efforts to go towards something bigger than quarterly numbers or operational Key Performance Indicators. A great leader rallies people around a vision and assures them the work they do truly matters. My former boss Ralph de la Vega was the best I’ve ever seen at this. You never left a meeting without feeling inspired, motivated and with a clear understanding of where the organization was heading and your role in that.

2) Establish—and stick to—priorities. Then, empower your team to achieve them.

My commanding officer in the Marine Corps taught us “commander’s intent.” The commander’s job is to be clear about the intent of a mission. If the enemy is on the hill, do you want your platoon to defeat the enemy or take the hill? At first, the goal is to do both. But what if the enemy leaves the hill as you approach? If you’ve set the right intent, the platoon knows exactly what to do – march up the hill without a battle or follow the enemy.

Without a clear intent, you waste time and resources recommunicating and re-establishing goals. Great leaders take the time to think through a set of priorities and goals for the organization. Once they’re set, leaders do everything possible to maintain and reinforce those priorities. But great leaders also know when to let go and let their teams run. Empower your team to make the necessary decisions along the way.

3) Accountability is critical. It doesn’t need to be a bad word.

Once you have a vision and set of priorities, it’s critical to hold teams accountable. All leaders focus on accountability. But great leaders strike the right balance. Praise – ideally offered publicly – is a great form of positive accountability. My first boss at AT&T was Lori Lee, now chief brand officer. She was a master at accountability. If you did a good job, you knew she appreciated it. On the flip slide, mediocrity wasn’t accepted. Poor work was discussed privately. And what resulted? You knew you were on a winning team.

4) Humility is key. It’s harder to maintain the more you succeed.

Great leaders don’t forget they are only as good as their team. They use the term “we,” and only use “I” when taking responsibility for their missteps. This can be tough as you rise in an organization. Great leaders make the effort to stay humble and get feedback about their leadership. They celebrate team members who take brave stances, establish regular methods to obtain honest—sometimes anonymous—feedback, and don’t hesitate to admit when they’ve messed up.

Set a vision. Establish priorities. Empower your team. Practice positive accountability. And stay humble. It’s not always easy, but it’s certainly possible, as I’ve seen it all, in the leaders who’ve had the biggest impact on my career. I continue to try my best to living up to their example, and encourage you to do the same.

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