Traits of a future manager

So, you fancy a management career. Or you are so fed-up with working for others and very much prefer having them work for you.

For several years I have looked at different managers and I couldn’t help but noticing certain common traits existing in most of them. Then I looked around at fellow employees to see how these traits look early in the career, before they get that big management job. I found some patterns of behaviour that could predict management potential even before the idea forms in the mind of the beholder.

If you are interested in a management career somewhere down the line check out these essentials. If you have them then develop them even further and go for what you want. If you do not have them, don’t despair. There is plenty of training available. Have a look at my good reads section to start and take it from there. There are also plenty of managers who succeed while being different from the rest and frankly that’s what makes them stand out from the crowd.

So, what distinguishes a management potential from the rest?

1. They start early
When you look at their CVs many, if not most of the managers, have started leading projects or teams very early in their careers, some of them even before graduating university. They were active in/presidents of student’s associations, set up NGOs, gathered people around them to fight for causes or organised events during their university years.

2. They are relentless
There is a particular skill that no managers affords not to have and that is drive defined by Cambridge Dictionary as having the energy and determination to achieve things. Drive is a synonym of internal power essential to one’s success.

3. They are good at choosing battles
In other words, they know when to let it go and when to dig their teeth in the pray.
Successful mangers do not waste their time chasing several rabbits. They chose only few. Focusing their efforts on less tasks gives them more chances to succeed in them. Likewise, potential managers chose their best tasks and deliver on those best and quickest. The rest is just sand, it falls through the cracks.

4. They have a side gig
You might say that managers are the people with the least time in the world to get involved in activities outside their workplace. But so many of them are members of different boards, lead or participate in parent associations, teach in universities, or simply blog on an array of subjects. This life after work goes beyond family and into the depths of their professional soul and personal goals. It can be a side gig, a second master degree, writing, continuous training, a consistent hobby or anything that involves structure and persistence. And this doesn’t start after they get that first shot at a big management job, it starts way earlier, it’s part of who they are. This particular drive that characterizes potential managers does not limit itself to the workplace but continues beyond it. More than that, these outside gigs actually increase their network and bring them fresh ideas that benefit their day job.

5. They network
Good managers and potential managers both are good at people. They have a large network and they surround themselves with people that can enrich their perspectives. Sadly, in some cases this becomes a negative trait, with avid networkers who see their network like a checklist and forget the very essence of connecting with people. However, most managers do it and you will always recognize a potential manager by the quality of her network.

6. They stay on top of the news
OK, this is a less obvious one. One would say that a (potential) manager needs to be good at what they do and should be concerned by what’s going on inside their team, not outside it. But in this age information is everything and what happens in the world inevitably influences us, the people we work with and the workplace as such. Not get the pulse outside can quickly turn into a disaster. It’s like investing without researching the company you invest in. Even for networking alone, being in touch with the news is good because it will give you subjects to talk about in any circumstance. This is particularly relevant for multicultural teams where people of certain nationality will care more if you show you are aware and concerned about what’s going on in their country.

7. They don’t get lost in details
People with management potential usually do not get lost in details. You will very rarely hear one of them saying “but that’s not possible, the system doesn’t work like that” but you will surely identify one by this question: “how can we make the system do that?”.
People with management potential are able to go to the balcony and grasp the global picture. I would go as far as to say that probably many of them are good at strategy games, like chess.

8. They think on the long term
A good (potential) manager is a master of planning. They easily manage time and resources and organise them towards a chosen goal. They can plan several moves at a time and usually have a plan B in check, in case things go south. Whereas some of them are naturally good at planning, it is more likely, especially at higher levels, that this trait was at least polished if not sparked with training and consistent practice.

9. They are confident
Whatever their age, professional level or knowledge good (potential) managers project confidence. They still do so even when they admit that they do not know something by asking a powerful question about it.
According to this study, assertiveness has a consistent correlation with managerial success and can even predict higher incomes.

10. They come up with initiatives
It’s about those people in a team who identify a problem and come up with the needed solutions, or who find a new way of doing things. They are not necessarily innovators, some of their solutions can be pretty simple or actually come from someone else, but they have the ability to identify the potential of that solution and take it to the next level. The combination of this skill with the particular drive for success at point 2 are for me a strong predictor of management potential.

To be continued …

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