The Single Most Important Trait in a Good Manager

When we look deeply at Management Training and the plethora of business training resources, business books and self-help seminars meant to assist us in the quest for the Holy Grail of Leadership, it’s interesting that so few of these really speak to the root of the issue with bad managers. Whenever I’ve encountered a truly bad manager, I’ve always detected an air of selfishness and entitlement. Certainly, the world is full of poor leaders who have the best intentions, yet little skill, though I’m speaking about those managers who become a cancer on the organization. The ones I like to simply call “bad managers.”


Just as the owners of a company provide the capital to start and administer the business, the leadership provided by the management team is critical to the long-term success of that business. Because our goal as managers it to make money for the owners/shareholders, great managers don’t feel like the company owes them something. Instead, they understand their role and they work very hard to drive success through their teams.


The single most important quality of a good manager is service. Service to the customers (internal and external), service to the company, and service to their team. Every bad manager I’ve ever met lacked the ability, drive or desire to serve. They expected others to serve them. They had the title and they wanted the perks.


Any manager who treats the organizational chart as her personal license to rule (instead of serve) will drive up expenses, turnover, and HR complaints. When a manager truly serves her team, she thinks of herself as a support resource and not “the boss.” Her door is always open, and she gratefully gives credit to her team. She trains her successor, checks her ego at the door, keeps her word, and bends over backwards for the customer. In a nutshell, she serves.


If this was 1958 and not 2008, we could all rule with an iron fist. We could use intimidation and get what we wanted, when we wanted it. We could also discriminate, sexually harass and have three martinis at lunch. This is not 1958, though it’s amazing how many managers I meet in a given month who still believe that their company, their customers and their subordinates serve them, and not the other way around. Fortunately, many of today’s CEOs understand this and they are beginning the process of removing bad managers and replacing them with leaders dedicated to service.


If you’re interested in growing from a manager to a leader, ask yourself this question: Do I truly serve others or do I expect them to serve me? The answer will help you understand whether or not you have a place in the new global economy or whether you should quit your job now and open a Subway franchise.