What traits are emerging amid these crises that make for a good manager? Clearly, some managers have thrived during these stressful, anxiety-ridden months. Some managers are just naturals. They have something special that just comes naturally. Managing effectively when times are tough takes a special skill, just like any other, that will improve with a focused, determined effort.
But where did they find this unexpected focus?
It’s not obvious — and this is where many ambitious individuals have failed to live up to their potential as good managers. Ambition is key to great management, but all the personal ambition in the world won’t make you a truly great manager. It takes a great deal of emotional intelligence and strength to truly inspire others.
Let’s take a look at some of the emerging traits of a good manager in an environment where they must lead in a virtual environment (hint: some of these are characteristics to cultivate for any scenario):
Many people in leadership positions suffer from a lack of humility. Leading others does require a healthy reservoir of self-confidence, but humility and self-confidence aren’t mutually exclusive.
Think back to your favorite books and films. Which characters are the ones you’d be inspired to follow into an uncertain situation: the braggadocious narcissist, or the strong, humble leader? Truly strong individuals don’t need to display their strengths and accomplishments because there’s nothing they need to prove.
Managers should ensure they are always giving credit where credit is due. There’s nothing worse than working hard on the front lines, only to have the recognition for that work absorbed by someone else, especially their manager. Instead, great leaders default to a practice of recognizing the contributions and achievements of their team members. After all, it would likely be impossible for a manager to accomplish their goals alone, and if they’re recognizing the team, the manager will likely be recognized by the team members.
Never forget that as employees work for a team, managers should be working for them in equal measure. This point carries a lot of weight in a virtual environment where people are stretched thin.
Handholding — or much worse, micromanagement — is one of the most common mistakes managers make. This isn’t to say that a “throw them to the wolves” approach is preferable, or even appropriate. Your onboarding program should provide employees with all the resources they need to bring their best work to the table.
It’s important to give a team the freedom they need to shine. Whether intentional or not, excessive handholding and micromanagement send a signal to their team a lack of trust and that the manager doesn’t believe they’re capable of success without the manager’s help. It’s also exhausting for the micromanager.
In a virtual environment, people are not connecting as frequently in face-to-face conversations to create alignment and not collaborating as often. Managers who are succeeding amid this shift to virtual work are those that set people up for success without stifling their abilities.
The best managers are often the best facilitators. They focus on making sure their team has every advantage, and the best possible tools at their disposal. These can be physical tools, software, or processes, but managers won’t know unless they are asking what their people need to be successful.
Often the cost (financial, time, or otherwise) of a new tool or policy can blind managers to its potential impact on a team’s productivity or experience. Many of the ways to facilitate great work can be be less costly than one might think. It could be something as simple as an introduction to a past colleague, a more ergonomic desk setup, a certification course, or some quick feedback on a project.
Managers whose teams are thriving in a virtual environment are asking their team members regularly if there’s anything they can do or provide that will help them.
Trust is a two-way street, and once it’s built it will continue to grow if it’s cultivated genuinely. Great managers have a mutual bond of trust and faith between them and their team. That’s a hard, if not impossible, thing to fake.
If a manager can’t trust their team, or they can’t trust the manager, an organization is woefully missing a crucial element of good management and successful business.
Managers often struggle with trust because they’ve been burned in the past. The uncertainty of a virtual environment adds to that uncertainty. But successful managers in a virtual environment support and project a sense of trust in their people — and, in turn, their people are reciprocating.
It’s not common for someone to start out in a leadership position without having worked beneath a leader at least once in their life, but it is unfortunately common for people to forget where they came from. That becomes a major problem when managers subject their colleagues to the same things that they themselves used to hate.
Although managers’ personal job responsibilities, especially in a virtual work environment, are undergoing dramatic change. But there is change facing everyone. That means a manager’s team members are feeling pain points and demonstrating a sense of empathy for employees’ issues will earn their trust and help managers lead. effectively.
It’s infinitely easier to stay on the same wavelength when managers are always listening.
Things aren’t always going to go right. People will make mistakes, and they’ll disappoint you. That’s just a natural part of working with others. The key is to approach these situations with patience.
Approaching employee issues with a hot head, or a zero-tolerance approach is nearly guaranteed to incite resentment, negatively impact engagement, and in the worst cases, mutiny. This isn’t to say that managers should let mistakes fly through without doing anything about it, especially if the behavior is chronic.
Great managers who are leading in a virtual workplace are those who approach manage performance with patience and by consistently giving employees the support they need to do better next time.
7. Diplomacy, a.k.a. Tact
Most leaders have at least some level of skill in this area to have made it into a management position. But, believe it or not, managers need it even more now as organizations are navigating tough issues such as being supportive and still needing employees to be productive amid the pandemic.
This isn’t about manipulation — far from it. It’s about knowing the likely outcome of interactions, and always aiming for the best.
When managers do need to deal with a tough situation regarding a coworker or direct report, it’s absolutely paramount that the actions of leaders don’t make that tough situation worse. People are already exhausted, stressed, and anxious.
8. Grace Under Pressure
Not many people enjoy working under a manager who panics feverishly, or even worse, flies off the handle and turns on their team at the slightest provocation or piece of bad news. One of the most important characteristics of a good manager is strength. A strong leader will provide an anchor in stormy seas, and a solid foundation during trying times.
The manager’s challenge is exuding strength without imposing it.
Transparency is vital to building trust, but that doesn’t managers let their people see panic or wavering in the face of challenges. Successful managers in virtual environments are rocks — they keep your chin up during challenges, and give the team the solidity they need to persevere.
9. Love for Learning
Learning shouldn’t stop when managers get to the top. If anything, it should accelerate.
It’s crucial to maintain a thorough understanding of the tasks at hand, but perhaps more so to maintain a sense of curiosity, and a drive to expand that understanding. Even better when this love of learning is shared with the team. Provide them with every opportunity you can to expand their own understanding and mastery of their responsibilities.
There are many ways to do this. Encourage employees to take online courses in (and even outside) their field. Provide the means that are necessary for them to do that, whether it’s a long lunch, or even supporting their tuition.
Great managers not only encourage and support the learning and development of their team — which can lead to organizations gaining new skills — but they look inward to improve their own leadership abilities. Some of the best managers leading virtual teams are those that are finding new ways and tips to lead dispersed teams and to prevent their people from being isolated.
Great managers are generous with their team. It’s really that simple.
They are generous with praise, generous with compensation (this can be, but doesn’t have to be in monetary terms), and generous with their time.
Virtual environments are leaving employees feeling like they are on an island. Managers who are rising to the occasion right now are those who give more to their team.
Leading a team when employees are remote or teams are dispersed is a challenge. But cultivating the characteristics of a good manager will make it dramatically easier, and almost certainly more rewarding. These 10 traits are a great starting point, but managers who start here will be rewarding to their career and those who they lead.