Five Qualities That Make You a Better Manager

Last Updated Apr 27, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

When I was a young engineer at Texas Instruments, I had a manager named Dick. Dick had a sign in his office that read: "I may not be smart, but I sure am experienced." Being a smart-ass, I made a sign that read: "I may not be experienced, but I sure am smart" and hung it in my cubicle. Dick didn't appreciate the humor.

Last week's Does Management Ability Improve With Age? sparked an excellent dialog, but it also got me thinking about the qualities I've developed over the years since my "sign war" with Dick that made me a better manager and leader. Here are five and they're not the ones that would automatically come to mind:

  • Balance. Dick and I were both wrong - balancing intelligence and experience is more important than either one. Strategy versus operational execution, ideology versus practicality, intuition versus logic, passion versus calm. The key to balance is knowing when you need one versus the other and not going overboard in either direction.
  • Humility. It's okay to be arrogant or young and full of yourself, but it also leaves you wide open to all sorts of issues like shortsightedness and believing your own BS. Humility leads to objectivity. It's also an important leadership quality; if you can be humble, then confidence and strength can't be far behind.
  • Objectivity. Since executives are by definition immersed in their environment, perspective is as critical as it is difficult to achieve. One of the most powerful tools in decision-making is being able to take a step back, ask others what they think, and see the big picture.
  • Teaming. I once had a boss who asked me if I ever looked back to see if anyone was following me. I was more than a little head-strong in the early days. I can't overstate the importance of team, meaning aligning with peers, working with customers to solve problems, and understanding what being part of a company means.
  • Knowing what you don't know. It's good to be intelligent, logical, and able to wrestle tough problems to the ground and reason them out. But knowing what you don't know is just as important. Until you know what you don't know, you won't ask the tough questions and arrive at the right conclusions.
What qualities do you think contribute to being a better manager?