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6 Actions of Great Managers

There are plenty of good business leaders out there, but what separates the good from the great? Consider these qualities when assessing your own leadership skills.
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How would you measure yourself as a manager? There are plenty of good business leaders out there, but what separates the good from the great? Every situation is different, but we have consistently seen six qualities--all of which must be juggled simultaneously--that great managers demonstrate.

1.  They know what motivates their employees.

Some employees are driven by money or title. Others are motivated by achieving work/life balance. Good managers understand their individual employees' priorities and find ways to create value for them and the overall business. The challenge is that there is no "one size fits all" approach. By spending time with your employees to understand their interests, both inside and outside of the office, you'll be discovering what motivates them to do their best work.

2.  They set their team up for success.

It can be difficult for entrepreneurs to transition away from the adage, "If I want something done right, I should just do it myself." But great leaders ensure that their employees have the opportunity to learn and operate independently. Loosening the reins not only fosters growth in your team, it, frees you up for higher-level tasks. A key part of this step is setting clear expectations with your employees from the start so that everyone is working under the same assumptions.

3.  They challenge and stretch their workers.

As your employees demonstrate their capacity to work independently, great managers will continue to find ways to challenge their existing skill sets or stretch them to fully own areas of a project. Encouraging an open dialogue is critical to ensure that you're not "piling on." Building a culture of constant skills development will keep your employees from becoming stagnant and also makes your employees more valuable to the business.

4.  They learn from mistakes.

Challenging employees to take on new tasks and expand their skills will inevitably lead to mistakes. Great managers give employees the freedom to make and learn from their errors. You can minimize the risk to the business by assigning tasks outside of someone's comfort zone in low-risk environments whenever possible. Providing timely feedback on what went well and what could have been better is critical to the learning process. Also important: acknowledging your own mistakes to demonstrate accountability.

5.  They know when to show some 'tough love.'

The most effective managers are often the ones that can give the most uncomfortable feedback. They know when and how to have the tough conversations. This is about holding your employees to a high standard that you know they are capable of living up to. By understanding your employees' capabilities, and being able to have a constructive conversation if they are not performing at their best, you will build a team of employees that want to impress you.

6.  They go to bat for their team.

Do your employees view you as an ally? Building trust goes both ways in this working relationship. You need your employees to trust you just as much as you need to trust them to provide you with consistently great work. Oftentimes, you are their only representation in discussions with other members of the leadership team. If your employees trust that you have their back in these conversations, they are more motivated to do their best work for you and maintain the mutually beneficial relationship.

Learning to effectively manage others leads to a happier, more productive team and a growing business.

Send us your thoughts at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

Lindsay Comstock contributed to this article.

Last updated: Apr 11, 2013

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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