What makes a great manager?
February 23, 2023

What makes a great manager?

Management can be amazing. It can also be really hard. Here are the four Piper Principle's that all great managers have...

Managers make a world of difference. They have the power to drastically improve a team’s engagement, growth and performance - but that is only possible with the right support. 

Only 1 in 10 managers have the natural talent to lead a team, yet we expect them to rise to the occasion - without the tools or skills they need to deliver. 58% of managers in tech have never had formal training for their role. While management is often seen as a logical next step in a career path, it is more than a promotion. It is a skill. Being a manager is a craft that is really hard to master.

What is the role of a manager?

People early in their management journey often misunderstand their role as a manager in one of two ways:

  1. “I have to have all the answers.” Managers spend a lot of their time fielding questions from their teams about issues and roadblocks. When this happens, it’s easy to feel like you are supposed to have an answer. The opposite is true. Your role as a manager is to facilitate the process of figuring things out, and to do that in a way that helps your team learn and grow.
  2. “I need to make everyone happy.” The reality of being a manager is that there are many things that are out of your control. Trying to eliminate discomfort and be friends with the people you manage is a battle you can’t win. Your job as a manager is to acknowledge what you can’t control and to set clear expectations for the people who report to you.

Management is not about you. Your success depends on your team's success. Their wins and their losses both reflect on you and your strength as a manager.

This means your ultimate role as a manager is to get the best out of the people you support and help them thrive. The foundation for doing this is what we call the “Piper Principles”. 

The Piper Principles

There are four key skills that make a great manager. These Piper Principles are based on industry research and Google’s landmark Project Oxygen - a 12 year study into the key qualities of great managers and teams. 

1. Psychological safety

For 70% of people, their manager has the same impact on their mental health as their partner. Managers have the opportunity and responsibility to create a safe space in which people can share what they are thinking and feeling. This means everyone in the team feels comfortable to be themselves, communicate their needs and challenge each other - including you, as their manager!

This level of comfort will differ from person to person, and the only way you can truly understand what is needed is by spending personal quality time with your team.

A few red flags that you might be lacking psychological safety with your direct reports:

  • People rarely raise personal concerns or issues with you
  • Mistakes or failures are not discussed openly
  • The team feels quiet and unmotivated in meetings

2. Coaching

Great managers empower people to navigate issues and find their own solutions so they can learn and grow.

Your team must make mistakes and do the work in order to learn - it is your responsibility to help them build their confidence, grow as problem solvers and challenge them.

Signs that you could benefit from coaching your direct reports more:

  • You often find yourself in fire-fighting mode, resolving issues on their behalf
  • People are struggling with their self-confidence
  • You feel like you can’t trust your team to take initiative 

3. Communication

Strong communication skills are often overlooked as a core part of management. In a Gallup study, 34% of employees said they are dissatisfied with communications at work and 91% think their managers are bad communicators. 

Great managers are clear communicators and good listeners who share the information people need to succeed in their roles.

Some things to look out for when communicating with your team: 

  • You let your team speak freely without interrupting them
  • You’re clear about what you do know and what you don’t know
  • You share the context people need to know about the team and the company regularly and consistently

4. Feedback

Great managers give and receive effective feedback that unlocks change and personal growth. Over three quarters of employees prefer to get feedback timely and regularly rather than waiting for performance reviews - it is a core part of good management. 

Great managers are also open to receiving feedback themselves and make it a habit to ask for it from the people they work with. 

You may need more support with giving feedback if: 

  • People rarely give you feedback
  • Being asked for feedback from others feels stressful
  • You tend to avoid giving constructive feedback because it feels uncomfortable