Are you a great manager?


A manager’s job is to get things done by marshalling the efforts of others. Great managers are self-determined managers, and self-determined managers are extremely rare.

“Being the kind of manager who creates a high-performing business is exceptionally difficult,” says David Deacon, author of the book, The Self-Determined Manager, A Manifesto for Exceptional People Managers. “You can never rest. You can never let things slide. You can never waste an opportunity. You are responsible for creating an environment in which people can achieve in ways they did not even imagine.”

Being a self-determined manager is not so much about mastering a vast array of technical skills. It’s less about task and more about attitude. It’s about creating environments of overachievement where people thrive and great work gets done … as opposed to an environment in which there’s little openness or honesty, or where everyone curries favor rather than focusing on performance.”

The ideas in Deacon’s manifesto are for managers at every level, from store owners to first-time managers. Regardless of your level or the scale of your impact, you will get a better outcome when you strive to be a self-determined manager. If you want to be among their number, here are 10 changes you may need to make right now.

Set aside time to reflect on your own agenda.

“This is a biggie,” says Deacon. “It’s really easy to lose sight of how (and if) your current situation fits with your overall aims. If you don’t have a clear sense of what your purpose is, why you’re doing what you do, and how it fits with your life, you cannot hope to make consistently good decisions for yourself and others. You’ll just be condemned to react to your circumstances.”

Choose, deliberately and actively, the type of environment you want to create.

As manager, it’s your job to decide the kind of environment that the team will experience, for better or worse. Think of the best teams you’ve worked on. What was the prevailing atmosphere? How did the team members work together? How were problems solved, issues resolved? At the heart of all that you’ll find a manager who set the tone and created the atmosphere.

Be more restless.

Each week ask yourself and your team: What can we do better? The best managers have impatience (if something is worth doing, why wait?), an instinct for continuous improvement (good enough is never good enough), and a lingering sense of constructive dissatisfaction (how can we do this better next time?). They set for themselves and others very high standards of performance and conduct.

“This demanding impatience for ever-greater impact and ever-higher standards can make self-determined managers very difficult to work for,” admits Deacon. “Just be sure to always balance the high expectations with encouragement and a positive approach.”

Treat employees like adults.

Work is not school. Adults do their best work when they are treated as adults. Therefore, great managers don’t bully, shout, patronize, belittle, play favorites, name-call, behave aggressively, or condescend. To generate trust and respect, you must create an environment where adults can do great things.

Curb any tendencies toward self-serving behavior.

Avoid the urge to take the glory for victories or shirk responsibility for failure. When you do this, you create an environment where people quickly learn not to volunteer, to not trust the intentions of their leader, and to be busy on projects away from the team where there will be recognition or reward for their efforts. If you feel the need to take credit or protect yourself at the expense of your team, remind yourself that it’s all about them, not about you. Your ego, fears, and ambitions are not relevant to your team, so keep them to yourself.

Let people know when they do great work. This creates confidence. The best managers make it clear to their people that they have confidence in their abilities and in their potential to make a big contribution to the team’s success. The message is, “I saw you do something really good today, and I know you will continue to do great things going forward.” This is an incredibly powerful combination.

Learn something new.

Take a class, master a new skill, take up a hobby. The best managers are interested, curious, open, and alert. They are forever seeking knowledge. This extends far beyond their professional work and reflects their interests, passions, pastimes, and preoccupations. First, thinking “widely” opens possibilities by helping you foster connections, recognize new opportunities, and find better ways to do things. Secondly, broad knowledge and curiosity make you adaptable; a key part of career success is about applying what you have learned in new situations.

Master the art of friendly, informal, light interaction.

While you don’t need to make everyone your friend, it’s important to eschew formality and standoffishness at work. Be gentle and kind with others as well as yourself. Work on creating positive interactions, where people come away feeling good, feeling they have some standing, that they can be themselves to a large extent, and that they are meeting with a good member of the human race.

Learn to like the people you work with. (Yes, even the unlikeable ones.) It’s crucial that you enjoy and appreciate the people you work with. If you deal with someone who is unlikeable, find something to appreciate in their person. Here’s why: it changes the nature of all interactions and maximizes the chance that you’ll be successful. You get a less cooperative, less inventive, and less engaged relationship with someone you do not like. It also furthers the chance that your team members will overlook your unlikeable qualities and focus on your best traits.

Everyone responds well to being treated well.

Figure out why the work of the team matters and articulate it to them.

Without this sense of purpose, it’s hard for people to make greater effort, direct their energies, and self-correct. Further, they will struggle to relate their actions to their employer’s performance, substituting instead other purposes, such as pleasing their boss or doing only work that interests them.

Striving to be a self-determined manager is incredibly hard work, but the payoffs are immense, says Deacon. Not only do you get to witness personal breakthroughs and join in team celebrations, you get to watch your store’s performance escalate over time.

“Managing others is not for the faint-hearted,” he concludes. “Doing it well is a conscious and tough choice you need to make every day. But I can’t think of a better way to spend your time.”

David Deacon has been a human resources professional for more than 30 years and has worked for a variety of the world’s leading companies, including Credit Suisse and MasterCard. He is a thought leader in the fields of learning and development, talent management, and leadership development. For more information, visit

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