10 Great Traits to Look for in Managers and Clients

What to Look for Before You Start

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So we meet for the first time, and we think we want this job or project. Sometimes we get so involved in proving ourselves worthy, we forget to look at the person we might be working with (or for) until after the project has started.

Whoa! If only we would slow down. A longer look before we jump into a relationship can often save so much heartache and time — yes even money — later. Just a longer look might change our mind about how much we want this job and the manager or client who comes with it.

10 Things to Look for in Managers and Clients

Managers and clients. They’re people too — human as we are — replete with our great qualities and our great . . . ahem . . . tiny . . . things that need working on. Every one of us has ’em. Some go better together than others, that’s all.

When it comes right down to it, we can spend more time with managers and clients than we do with our family and friends. Managers and clients have an impact on the quality of our lives. So it makes sense to make sure that they are the sort of people we work well with. Here are 10 great traits to look for in managers and clients when you’re deciding whether you want that job.

  1. They already know who they are. A great manager or client is self-aware. You can talk frankly about what you do, what’s going wrong and right, without needing to preface or sugarcoat what you have to say. They look at the work. They look at you. They look at the big picture, their boss, and the market without using that information to define who they are.

  2. They listen actively. When you speak, they hear what you say and what you mean. They ask questions to be sure that they understand. They are curious about your ideas and your view point, because they know listening is one of the most powerful tools available to them.

  3. They are “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage “ When they model or teach, it’s by telling stories or by participating with authentic curiosity and willingness to share.

  4. They don’t add too much value. They know when it’s someone else’s turn. Sometimes they don’t attend a meeting or don’t lead a discussion because they know that they can douse a fire by adding too much fuel.

  5. They respect the intuitive detail of those who do the work. Great managers know that those who live the work on a daily basis take in information and perceptions at every level. Those managers and clients realize that there’s a wealth of experience to be tapped if the right questions are asked. They also know that sweeping general decision they might make can disregard something hidden in that intuitive detail.

  6. They stand outside the process as much as they can. Great managers know that if they participate in the thinking, then there is no one outside of it to serve as a check. They have learned to hold the bigger picture to balance the folks who have the intuitive detail.

  7. They offer new perspectives and paradigms. When the going gets rough, great managers know what to say to get things back on track. They restore the vision by re-aligning the perspective that may have gone off track. They offer new paradigms when folks get stuck in problem thinking.

  8. They hold folks accountable with both head and heart. Great managers hold us all accountable for our professional behavior — in process, communication, personal, and interpersonal skills. That is a promise of a team well led and a project done well.

  9. They understand the business they are in. This may sound obvious but, if they don’t understand the business they are in, those above don’t matter, because we’ll all run out of money and have to find other jobs.

  10. Great managers understand that all people including themselves can only do what is humanly possible. They know that as long we can say that no one is going to die and we’re still going to eat tomorrow we are indeed lucky.

So the next time we go in for that job or that project, we might review this list from the bottom to the top and jot a few questions of our own. After all, a good fit saves everyone time and heartache and lots of other things you can count on a spreadsheet, that on a sunny morning don’t seem to mean nearly as much.

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.

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Business Rule 7: Sound Bytes, Stories, and Analogies
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  1. says

    Hi Liz

    I must say that item 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and lets not forget item 10, reminds me of the key qualities my dear friend Richard (yes him, my mentor) portraits.

    I like to think I’m learning from him to integrate most of the mentioned qualities into my own personality as ‘manager’ and encounters with our customers. He’s ‘just’ there to show the way 😉

  2. says

    Awesome list, and you’re right that it’s aspirational for most managers. From an organizational change perspective, #4 is so important, but I think it’s a key differentiator between the great and the good manager.

  3. says

    Gosh, Tim, great to see you!
    I know you have some of them . . . I’ve seen them for myself.

    I know that I only have a few of them that I can be sure of . . . the rest I know about and glimpse at. :)

  4. says

    Thanks for providing the great list. I agree with those traits. It really shows the important and necessary things which we should consider like understanding. Our workplaces would be a great place if all people in there are understanding.

  5. says

    Very nice post! I know from my own experience I was always so focused on “getting the job” that I really didnt spend a lot of time examining the “manager” during the interview process.

    What are some questions that should be asked to help draw these kinds of points out of the manager? Are there any that should be asked of the preliminary interviewers such as the HR manager? I have to think a companies corporate culture also plays into this.

    Best regards

  6. says

    Hi Eric,
    The first thing I do is pay attention to how relaxed I feel when I’m with the person across the desk. I especially see how candid and relaxed he or she is.

    Then I ask questions like these:
    What is YOUR manager like? What is his or her management style?

    How do new ideas get to be part of the company’s goals? How does the company set strategies? Do you get to be part? (This one lets me know also how he or she feels about how the company is run and how secure he or she feels.)

    How do you bring entry level folks up to speed with the training they need? (instructor or guide)

    What is the company’s usual response to putting out fires? or dealing with the occasional person who gets distract from his or her job responsibilities?

    What kinds of issues wake you up at 2a.m.?

    That last one is tricky . . . an insecure interviewer could find it intrusive. But then, I don’t think I would want to work for a person like that. :)

  7. says

    That is a great list. It’s something we all need in good managers and clients. Some of the managers I know lack understanding. I am sure that they know that all people have needs and feeling but they don’t consider some of it at all.

  8. says

    It sounds like a great manager or client remembers that it’s about people working with and dealing with people. The best relationships in business are the best people relationships. So for me all your points point to humanizing business.

  9. says

    Maybe. I feel that long ago I learned that people don’t want to do business with businesses – they want to do business with people. So I take that to heart in everything I attempt to do.

  10. says

    Hi Dawud,
    I so agree with you. People want to be with other people, to talk to other people, to know that other people are listening and seeing, and contributing to what they do. :)

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