Have you ever wondered if managers are really important? Do they matter, or are they more destructive than they are beneficial? If you have ever asked yourself such questions, you are not alone.

These questions have also been asked by one of the world’s largest tech companies, and one that has had a very huge impact on modern day life – Google.

From its beginnings back in 1998, Google was built as a company for engineers.

If you have any engineer friend, you probably know that most engineers want to spend their time designing and building things, not supervising others or doing managerial work.

A few year’s into its existence, some of Google’s engineers started complaining that having to deal with bosses and supervise others was distracting them from the ‘real work’ of designing and building systems and applications.

As you probably know, Google is a company that is known for its crazy and outrageously ambitious experiments – from building personal jet packs and space elevators to teleportation – and it decided to tackle the engineers’ complaints the same way it tackles most other problems; by experimenting with crazy ideas.

In 2002, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to conduct an experiment to determine whether managers were necessary at Google.

They did this by getting rid of all engineering managers and adopting a completely flat organizational hierarchy.

This might sound like a very outrageous experiment, but nothing is too outrageous at Google, right?

Like many of its other experiments, this experiment turned out to be a total failure.

Without any sense of direction, too many employees started going directly to Page and Brin with questions about interpersonal conflicts, expense reports, project prioritization, and other nitty-gritty issues. Two months after the experiment was started, it was called off.

Having established that the company could not operate efficiently without managers, Google shifted its attention to identifying what made a great manager. This was done through an initiative known as Project Oxygen.

In this project, Google hired a group of statisticians to collect data from employee surveys, performance appraisals, interviews, and other sources of employee feedback and determine what common traits and characteristics differentiated high performing managers from low performing managers.

With the results of Project Oxygen, Google came up with a list of eight characteristics that were found to be common among its very best managers.

Google started training all its managers on how to develop these traits, and the results were astounding.

The performance of the worst performing managers improved by up to 75%.

There was also an overall improvement in metrics such as employee performance, satisfaction, turnover, and so on.

Over time, and following further analysis, two more traits were added to the list, making a total of 10 traits that make a great manager.

According to Google’s Project Oxygen, a great manager should:

1. BE A GOOD COACH

If you want to be a great manager, the first thing you need to do is to shift your perspective from that of a boss/supervisor to that of a coach.

Your job is not to simply outline what your team needs to do and crack the whip on anyone who seems to be lagging behind.

Unfortunately, this is what most managers do.

They don’t pay any attention to employees who are doing their job well, and will only engage with an employee when they notice that the employee is not performing as they should.

Great managers know that all members of their team need to be managed, whether they are star performers or not.

Great managers take the time to find the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, and then try to find ways to help them improve.

They know that complacency is one of the worst things at the workplace, and they are therefore constantly looking for ways to help members of their teams get stronger.

If you want to be a great manager, you should provide guidance to your team members and support all their learning efforts.

If they come to you with problems, instead of simply solving the problem for them, you should use the problem as an opportunity to teach your team how they should deal with similar problems in future.

If you ensure that your team is constantly learning and improving themselves, it is inevitable that they will always be ahead of the curve, and their performance will only get better and better.

2. EMPOWER THE TEAM AND AVOID MICROMANAGING

Managing a team is a challenging and delicate affair.

On the one hand, if you give your direct reports too much freedom, there is a possibility that things will not be done as they should, there will be costly mistakes, and performance will decline.

On the other hand, micromanaging employees will only make them frustrated, interfere with their productivity, and stifle their creativity. The key, therefore, is to aim for a delicate balance between freedom and management.

Most employees want to know that their bosses believe in their abilities and trust them to get their work done without having to look over their shoulders all the time.

As a manager, avoid dictating your team’s every move, or taking on some of their tasks.

This only shows that you don’t trust them to do the right thing. Instead, you should empower them to take control of their own projects.

According to research by Gretchen Spreitzer from the University of Michigan, employees who are empowered are more likely to be committed to the organization, motivated, and satisfied with their jobs, leading to improved performance and reduced turnover.

One of the best ways to empower your team is to adopt the black, red, and green zone approach. In this approach, tasks are categorized into black, green, and red zones.

Tasks within the black zone are those that fall within the employee’s job description. It is the employee’s responsibility to get these tasks done however they deem best.

In the green zone, we have tasks that are slightly outside the employee’s job description, but the employee is still allowed to make their own independent decisions and actions without having to seek your approval. Instead, they only need to notify you of their decisions and actions.

You should give the employee the authority to make their own decisions and actions on green zone tasks after you have established that the employee can competently and responsibly make these decisions without your input.

As the employee gets better at their job and at making such decisions, the green zone will expand as you delegate more tasks to them.

Finally, in the red zone, we have tasks that require the employee to consult you before taking action or making a decision.

The employee is not allowed to make independent decisions on these tasks, owing to the fact that they involve a high level of risk, or because they do not have experience, knowledge or skills to independently handle such tasks.

The black, green, and red zone approach allows you to achieve a balance between empowering your employees while at the same time maintaining some level of control.

3. CREATE AN INCLUSIVE TEAM ENVIRONMENT, SHOWING CONCERN FOR SUCCESS AND WELL-BEING

Every employee wants to feel that they are a valued member of their team, that whatever they do is important.

Therefore, as a great manager, it is your responsibility to make every member of your team feel valued.

You should actively show interest in the happiness of your team members, their well-being, and their individual success, not just the success of the team as a whole.

To create an inclusive environment for your team, encourage your team members to speak up and share their opinions.

Of course, for this to work, you have to give equal importance to the contributions of each team member.

If you only listen to the concerns of two employees while ignoring the others, they will feel excluded, and this will create resentment and bad blood within your team. You should also encourage your team to take risks.

When they take risks and fail, give them support and constructive criticism, rather than berating them.

You want to create an environment where nobody in your team is afraid of risks or embarrassed of their ideas and opinions.

In addition, make it a habit to regularly check in with your team members, keep track of their performance, provide regular feedback on how they can improve, and give them guidance on how to avoid potential pitfalls.

Make it clear that you care about their individual success.

If you are the type of manager who only provides feedback to your employees when something is going wrong, this shows that you are only doing it to protect your reputation.

It shows that you don’t care about the individual success of your team members.

4. BE PRODUCTIVE AND RESULTS ORIENTED

As a manager, it is up to you to set the pace for your team.

If you are lazy, only doing the bare minimum and always looking for opportunities to be away from work, your team members will gradually start emulating you, and before you know it, the productivity of the entire team will have tanked.

Similarly, if you are productive and results oriented, if you are constantly getting things done and following up on anything that doesn’t seem to be moving, your team will pick up your pace. In other words, you have to be the role model for your team.

As a productive and results oriented manager, it is your responsibility to keep your team focused on their goals, provide them with clear guidelines on how they will achieve those goals, and most importantly, keep track to ensure that they are on course to achieve the goals.

Of course, this doesn’t mean constantly watching over their shoulders or overburdening them with work.

It simply means that you should create an environment where you team members prioritize productivity over other non-work-related activities.

5. BE A GOOD COMMUNICATOR WHO LISTENS AND SHARES INFORMATION

Effective communication is one of the most important skills in your career, whether you are an employee or a manager.

However, being a good communicator is a lot more important when you are a manager.

As a manager, it is your role to sell your organization’s mission and vision to your employees.

It is your role to communicate your team’s goals and objectives and how they tie to the organization’s mission and vision.

It is your role to outline the specific steps that your team needs to take in order to achieve these goals and objectives.

Without excellent communication skills, you won’t do a good job of communicating all this key information, which means that your team will find themselves on the wrong track more often than not owing to miscommunication, and even lack of communication.

Being a good communicator also means being able and willing to provide your direct reports with feedback, whether negative or positive.

Feedback should be sincere and specific, should be given often, and should be given with the aim of helping the other party get better and better.

Effective Leadership

Some common communication issues that hinder great management. Source: Kinsey Management

As a manager, it is also very important to be a good listener, which is also a part of being a good communicator. Listening shows that you value the other person and that you care about their wellbeing.

Listening also allows you to better understand and connect with your team members, learn of any challenges they are going through, provide them with the resources and support they need to do their jobs, and learn about and nip any potential problems in the bud before they turn into real problems.

6. SUPPORT CAREER DEVELOPMENT AND DISCUSS PERFORMANCE

A lot of managers treat their employees like tools. They only think about what the employees can do for them and the organization.

Great managers, on the other hand, know that their employees are individuals with their own career goals and aspirations.

Therefore, instead of just looking at what the employees can do for the organization, they also look at how they can help the employees move closer to their career goals.

Great managers are genuinely interested in the career development of their employees.

They help them come up with career development plans, use performance reviews as opportunities to encourage and build up the employees rather than frustrate and tear them down, provide them with honest feedback, and generally guide them on how to become better in their careers.

Such managers know that supporting their employees’ growth and future success will make the employees happier, more effective and more productive.

7. HAVE A CLEAR VISION/STRATEGY FOR THE TEAM

Some managers do not bother explaining to their teams why they are doing what they are doing.

They just provide them with a list of tasks that have to be completed within a specified period.

Great managers, on the other hand, understand that the best way to get the commitment of their team members is to let them in on the vision and strategy of the team.

Instead of simply providing a list of tasks to be completed, they make it clear how the efforts of the team tie in to the overall goals of the organization, and then from this, come up with goals and objectives for the team.

They then provide a roadmap on how the team should go about achieving these goals.

Doing this allows their teams to work more efficiently and at a higher level compared to teams that have just been provided with a set of tasks.

Great managers also understand that it is important to communicate this vision/strategy to their individual team members regularly, tying the performance of each team member to the team goal.

8. HAVE KEY TECHNICAL SKILLS TO HELP ADVISE THE TEAM

Have you ever been a position where you were required to manage a group of people without a good grasp of what they do? How was the experience?

I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.

To be a good manager, you need to have a good understanding of the activities that your direct reports are tasked with, as well as a grasp of the skills your direct reports need in order to complete their tasks.

This way, you are in position to advise them on how best to undertake the tasks assigned to them, as well as how to overcome any challenges that they might encounter while performing their duties, since you have the “been there, done that” experience.

This is particularly important when you are managing highly technical teams.

When someone has risen through the ranks to a managerial position, they will more often than not have a good grasp of the skills of those below them.

Sometimes, however, a manager might be brought from an entirely different field to manage a technical team.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you should spend the first few months in the position learning everything you can about the tasks and roles of those you are managing.

This way, you will be able to give advice and provide guidance in case your team hits a technical snag.

9. COLLABORATE ACROSS THE COMPANY

This is the first of two attributes that were added to the list to make it a total of ten attributes that define great managers. Great managers realize that their teams are not islands.

Teams are cogs in a bigger machine that is made of several other teams and departments.

Great managers realize that, regardless of the size of the company they are working for, one of the keys to having a successful team relies on how well they can work with the other teams and departments.

Very often, your team will need the support or collaboration of other teams in order to achieve its goals and objectives.

However, if you have created an environment where you team works in isolation, it will be very difficult for you to enlist the support of other teams.

Managers who have created connections across on the company, on the other hand, can easily use their connections and influence to get what they need for their teams.

As a manager, therefore, you should aspire to eliminate silos across the organization and instead aim to create good working relationships between your team and other teams and organizational functions.

10. BE A STRONG DECISION MAKER

This is the second of the two attributes that were added to the list to make it a total of ten attributes that define great managers.

As a manager, you will very often be required to make decisions, some of which might be a bit difficult to make.

In such situations, it is important to analyze available information, test some possible scenarios and come up with a strategy to help you make the right decision.

Sometimes, however, some managers spend too much time analyzing without making any decision.

Not only does this waste both your time and your team’s time, it also paralyzes the organization and makes you look like you do not believe in yourself.

Great managers know that ultimately, what matters is taking action. If you waste too much time thinking, the opportunity might be gone before you make a decision.

They know it is better to make a decision and be proven wrong than to be indecisive.

To be a great manager, you will have to adopt the mentality of action and decisiveness.

Even when faced with tough decisions, quickly take whatever actions seems right to you at the moment without worrying about the backlash in case you are proven wrong.

In addition, don’t be afraid to be the boss.

If it calls for it, have the tough conversations with your team and stop any unwanted behavior before it becomes a problem.

Don’t be afraid of doing what you feel is right for the team, even if it might not be the most popular course of action at the moment.

WRAPPING UP

After its failed experiment on whether it could function without managers, Google set out to identify the traits of great managers, and came up with the 10 traits discussed above.

Ever since, they have been used to train and improve the performance of Google’s managers, leading to improvements in various metrics, including employee performance, satisfaction, turnover, and so on.

In other words, these are tried and tested traits. If you want to improve yourself and transform yourself into a great manager, just like Google has consistently done to its managers, it might be time for you to start training yourself to develop these ten traits.

10 Traits of a Great Manager, According to Google

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