What makes a “good” manager?

Much of my work these days is in helping organisations in the selection of their managers. This has developed into a series of  talks and “workshops” for those involved – or to be involved – in the selection and recruitment or promotion of managers.

The objective is of course to appoint managers who will be successful (however success is to be defined). But that “success” lies in the future and will only ever be measured in retrospect. While defining what would constitute “success” is vital, it is my contention that the selection process has to focus on the “goodness” of the manager.

I take “goodness” to be an inherent attribute of a manager whereas “success” is a value-judgement of what has been achieved – but only and always in retrospect. “Successful” cannot and should not therefore be equated with or substituted for “good”.

Success is transient. Just like profit or cash-flow – it is over once it has been recognised. The success counter is set to zero once the success is “booked”.  Goodness lasts longer – it is like a balance sheet item. This financial analogy is sound. A success once booked – like profit or cash – gets transferred to the goodness in the balance sheet. It is available as a balance sheet item for future results but does not – in itself – ensure such future results. Past successes like previous profits provide a track record and an indication of things to come but do not, in themselves, ensure future success or profit. And just as a lack of profit or a shortage of cash can impair a balance sheet, a lack of success can impair a manager’s goodness.

Success and goodness are different.

The likelihood of a manager with a proven track record of success being a “good” manager is high. There is also no doubt that the probability of a “good” manager achieving the best result possible is high. From this it follows that the chance of achieving success is enhanced with a “good” manager. Success though does not just require goodness. And goodness does not ensure success. But goodness does predicate achieving the best result possible. In other words, if the goodness is inherent then the track record may follow. To continue with the financial analogy, if the balance sheet is sound then the probability that profits and cash may follow is enhanced.

Therefore it seems to me to be a much more grounded approach to focus on the goodness of a prospective manager rather than on just his track record of past successes or on trying to make a forecast of his future success.

I define nine fundamental “building blocks” which together as a package indicate the potential “goodness” of a prospective manager:

  1. the ability to properly exercise power,
  2. judgement,
  3. the ability to communicate,
  4. an understanding of networks and relationships,
  5. strength of character,
  6. courage,
  7. the ability to motivate ,
  8. integrity,
  9. class

Essence of a ManagerThese nine fundamental attributes are both necessary and sufficient to complete a full profile.  I would be reluctant to classify any person as having the potential to be a good manager if any of the above were totally missing from his armoury. It is not necessary to include in this list such attributes as intelligence and knowledge and creativity which are present in all individuals to varying degrees and which are implicit in all of the above.  It is not necessary either to include such attributes as leadership, decision making and vision and strategic thinking in this list. They are all of great importance but they are also all present as consequences or as derivatives of the nine fundamental building blocks.

It should be noted that the fundamental characteristics are not separable and do not exist independent of each other. The complete package is what is needed and what should be assessed. These are therefore the areas I would investigate when assessing a prospective manager and I would look to track record and any results from aptitude tests and the like as a complement and primarily to illuminate the assessment of these characteristics.

(Extracts adapted from Essence of a Manager)

W1: Goodness of a Manager (pdf)

W2: The nine attributes of a good manager (pdf)

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