What makes a good manager?

Before e-mail and instant messaging, a manager of mine by the name of Jeff knew how to make his presence felt and be an efficient self-promoter. As a newly hired manager, he advertised that he was the first in the office in the morning, and the last to leave in the evening.

Once this image was established, his next move was to ask every member of his team to document one of the systems he was supposed to oversee. This was a double win-win: he learnt about his portfolio, and also got to know our analytical abilities; the team got a session of cross-training and was initiated in the fine art of giving formal presentations.

Before diversity was an item on corporate agendas, he knew how to bond a team of nine people from four continents. He had a genuine interest in us as individuals, in the place of our birth and in our Canadian journey. In one of the first weekly status meetings, he asked for our personal stories of “how me met our significant other” and shared his own.

Before networking was a buzzword, he understood its importance and practiced its three-pronged variety: networking with peers, superiors and subordinates. Everyone got to be invited on his small yacht for a trip on Lake Ontario in the summer. What an event this was for some of us new Canadians! Also, he made a point of holding a little ceremony when one of us acquired our citizenship. I still rest my daily cup of tea on that small, square, elk-adorned thing presented to me on the occasion.

Jeff knew how to give feedback. A well-written letter to the client would not pass unnoticed (he even took the time to debate the placement of commas or the spelling of “acquire” – q or c?). Neither would substantial mistakes go unsanctioned: once, when I made a blunder in front of a client, he covered up; but when the meeting was over, he told me what I did wrong and how to handle things in the future.

Contrast this with a later experience, when a manager asked me to write a query, which I did as soon as I finished the task at hand. Months later, I find out from her that I should have known how urgent that request was and that I had not lived up to expectations. Not what one would call timely and constructive feedback.

Jeff placed trust in his people. Before promoting women became a conscientious management exercise, he put me in charge of a high-risk project. But when I completed the work (and also was hugely pregnant at the time) he had no qualms about me presenting my findings in front of a group of high-authority executives few junior employees get to meet on the job.

He knew how to make his people feel appreciated and visible in a company that only issued business cards for project managers and executives. When clients were visiting, he invited team members to join the paid-by-company lunch at an upscale restaurant.

Those occasions were also lessons in business etiquette — nothing like years later, when my new manager asked me to see her in her office during lunch-time for my performance review. She started gulping down a smelly pasta dish while I was asked to “talk about myself.” Not sure what was more nauseating: the smell of the pasta, or the feeling that I was some clown called in to “perform” over lunch. Where are these managers now?

The pasta-cum-employee eater was later demoted and hopefully now pursues other interests. The feedback-maestro has been promoted — she has to give more feedback to more people but seems to be doing fine. And Jeff? “Gone fishing.” He would have turned 58 this October but had to face one last, immovable deadline.

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–Andronache is a Toronto-based application developer who works for a large IT firm. She can be reached at [email protected].

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