how can I tell if I’m a good manager? — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

In the last few months, I’ve gone from being an individual contributor to now managing a team of several employees. While I absolutely love my new role and feel alive doing what I do, I’m not oblivious to the fact I’m still very new at managing people and have lots of room to develop. In fact, one of my commitments this year has been to grow my self-awareness.

While working on that goal, I heard a speaker say that bad bosses are typically clueless about how bad they truly are and how they are perceived by their teams. This leads me to my question … Since employees don’t provide feedback in the same way a boss does, how can you actually tell how you are doing as a manager? I’m sure there are signs to look for, but there’s definitely a reason one of my goals is improving my self-awareness — it just doesn’t come naturally for me.

Yay to you for thinking about this and asking this question. It’s absolutely true that most bad managers have no idea that they’re terrible at managing, or at least have no idea what their staff really thinks of them. And very few of them undertake any kind of sincere effort to find out.

One important thing you can do is to be very deliberate about creating an environment where it’s safe for people to give you honest feedback. That takes time, because the power dynamics inherent in your relationship with your team mean that most people will err on the side of, at the least, shading the truth about how they feel about your management. To build a team that feels comfortable giving you honest feedback will take time — but you can do it by things like not reacting defensively when someone disagrees with you, being actively appreciative when people give you feedback or a differing point of view, and some of the other suggestions here.

But being a good manager isn’t just about your team liking you/being happy with you. The most important indicator of how well you’re managing is what kind of results you’re getting in your realm in the long-term. So that means you should ask yourself questions like:

  • Does your team have clear, reasonably ambitious goals, and are they meeting them?
  • If you asked your staff what their two to three most important goals are for the year, would their answers match what you think their top goals should be?
  • When you’re on vacation, are you confident that work is moving forward and being handled well in your absence, or are you nervous because you’ve found you need to be the to tell people how to handle things?
  • Do you feel like the only way for your team’s work to be done really well is for you to do it yourself or be involved every step of the way?
  • When you delegate work, does it usually come back to you as you had hoped and by the deadline you assigned?
  • Do people on your team seem to feel comfortable giving input, suggesting ideas, and taking initiative?
  • Does your team seem enthusiastic about their work, put the team’s success ahead of personal agendas (most of the time), and generally have good will toward one another? Or do you see signs of distrust, drama, and negativity?
  • Are you generally retaining your high performers for solid periods of time? (No one will stay forever, of course.)
  • How long do low performers stick around on your team? Do you address problems quickly so the person is either brought up to the bar you need or moved out?
  • Do you regularly talk with people about what’s going well and what could be going better?
  • Do you have any concerns you have about team members that you haven’t talked with them about?

Those questions will get to the heart of how your management is playing out in the ways that matter most, and will tell you what areas you might need to work on.

I’m also going to recommend the handbook for managers that I co-authored, Managing to Change the World. It’s geared toward nonprofit managers, but most of what’s in there applies to any sector — and it’ll help you work on any problem areas you uncover from asking the questions above.

Good luck!

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