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  1. Blog
  2. Management
  3. August 4, 2022

What Makes a Good Manager, According to Research

Learn from the experts

Woman manager smiling
Photo courtesy of Christina @

Good managers are hard to come by. 

Why? Many managers become managers with little or no management training, and when they are provided training, it doesn’t necessarily improve their skills. Research shows that 84 percent of workers say poorly trained people managers create a lot of unnecessary work and stress, and 57 percent say that managers in their workplace could benefit from training on how to be a better people manager. 

The good news is that there are clear paths to improvement for managers. 

Here’s what makes a good manager, according to research, and ways that new and experienced managers can improve in these eight foundational areas. 

Read more: 9 Characteristics All Good Leaders Have in Common

What makes a good manager? 8 effective strategies for every leader, according to research

1. Clearly communicating measurable company goals

Open communication is a fundamental element of a successful workplace. McKinsey & Company’s study about the future of remote work suggests that employees who feel more included in workplace communication are almost five times more likely to report increased productivity. The effects of flawed communication? SHRM reports that companies can lose up to $62.4 million per year by miscommunicating with employees.

It’s imperative that good managers push their team members to grow and succeed by clearly communicating company goals, KPIs, and deadlines—but without micromanaging. They should know how to delegate tasks, then step back and allow employees to complete their work using their own authority and judgment.

Leadership strategist Hilary Jane Grosskopf says, “When you give [an] ask, be specific as to what the outcome should be, but leave the how-to open. If they seem confused or don’t know where to start, that is where it’s essential to be a mentor and provide some guidance,” she explains.

If you want to improve your communication skills, start by auditing your team’s communication needs regularly, since approaches might need to be adjusted as teams grow. You can evaluate your team’s specific communication needs by anonymously surveying employees, hiring a business coach or consultant, or hosting a lunch and learn based on team communication.

2. Encouraging innovation and creativity

According to McKinsey & Company's award creativity score (ACS), there's a direct link between a company's financial performance and its creativity. Of the firms deemed creative by McKinsey's metrics, 67 percent showed above-average revenue growth and 70 percent exhibited above-average returns to shareholders. So, in order for businesses to stay ahead of their competition, managers must create an environment that fosters and invites open-mindedness, innovation, creativity, and curiosity. 

A good manager is smart enough to realize that they don’t have all of the solutions and actively seek input from their employees. They solicit opinions—even from those who are likely to disagree with them—learn from others, leave their comfort zone, and take risks.

To foster creativity, managers should:

  • Host team-building activities to get people outside their comfort zones 

  • Ask employees to identify three priorities or problems they wish to solve, and then hold an “innovation day” every quarter during which employees come together to develop a potential solution to one of their problems

  • Encourage teams to try something new at least once a week to challenge their routines

3. Possessing active listening skills

Becoming a better listener can improve productivity, engagement, and trust at work. Active listening allows managers to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information, and respond thoughtfully. Psychotherapist Nicki Nance says active listening decreases errors, leads to better teamwork, and builds stronger relationships.

To be an active listener, give your full attention to anyone who is speaking to you, invite others to elaborate, ask more “why” questions, and tell people you’ll give thought to what they tell you. It’s also important to make the time for all of your direct reports and listen to any concerns they have. 

Invite feedback in 1:1s by asking your direct reports questions like:

  • Are you encountering any challenges in your position?

  • Do you have any suggestions for improving the way we work together?

  • What keeps you engaged and inspired at work?

  • What projects have you enjoyed working on recently? Why?

  • How can I better support you in your job?

Read more: How to Listen Effectively (& Why You Should)

4. Sharing inclusivity and diversity, equity, and inclusion goals

According to InHerSight research, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) visibility and measurability is crucial to the retention of employees—53 percent of employees say they are unlikely or very unlikely to stay with a company that does not have visible or measurable DEI engagement. A report from Gartner HR also found that in organizations with managers who put DEI into practice, employees are three times more likely to be high performers, 1.5 times more likely to continue working for their employer, and nearly three times more likely to feel included.

In other words, it’s detrimental to your retention efforts to not address inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. It’s also the right thing to do.

A good manager should help their employees learn about and address their biases, open up a transparent dialogue about DEI, and commit to ongoing anti-racism education and training. Host a monthly DEI forum and make sure you’re making all of your representation data publicly available so you can be held accountable. 

Other DEI goals could include:

  • Requiring 50 percent gender representation for all senior, C-suite, or board positions

  • Prioritizing interview questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion

  • Offering and championing employee resource groups 

  • Creating a mentorship or sponsorship program for underrepresented groups

Read more: Succession Planning: Building Diversity, Equity & Inclusion into Your Company’s Leadership Pipeline

5. Leading with empathy and flexibility

Managers stay busy training, delegating, and evaluating, but it’s important to remember that your employees have lives outside of work. Take the time to check in with them to see how they’re doing in their personal lives, and remain open-minded and flexible with their work schedule and style if they’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. 

Research backs the benefits of an empathetic managerial approach. According to a study, leaders who are more empathetic have followers who experience less stress and physical symptoms, and empathetic leaders are more effective at motivating and leading employees and helping them to cope with workplace stress. Another Workplace Empathy Study showed that 90 percent of employees, CEOs, and human resources professionals say empathy is important in the workplace, and 83 percent said they would leave their organization for a similar role at another company that exercised more empathy. 

Humanize your 1:1s by asking more informal questions and really listen to the answer. You can ask questions like:

  • How are you doing in general?

  • What have you been up to on the weekends?

  • Do you have any personal goals that I can help you with?

  • How is your side-hustle going?

  • How is your family doing?

  • Do you have any vacations planned?

Read more: 5 Signs Someone Lacks Empathy & How to Practice It at Work

6. Striving for self-awareness and constant improvement 

When leaders are more self-aware, they’re more confident and creative, and they make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Plus, self-awareness can impact a company’s bottom line—companies with strong financial performance tend to have leaders with higher levels of self-awareness

Workplace culture expert Shelley Smith says, "Self-awareness isn't an ego thing. The more you understand yourself, the greater your awareness is to lean into others' needs with grace." She adds that greater self-awareness leads to "greater respect, greater influencing ability, greater intentionality, greater achievement of goals."

To reflect and become more self-aware, good managers should ask themselves questions like:

  • Does my team have clear goals, and are they being met?

  • Am I contributing to an inclusive workplace where every individual’s ideas and opinions are valued and heard?

  • Am I going above and beyond to support women and BIPOC employees? Do I offer them enough support and resources in order to perform their jobs while feeling a sense of belonging?

  • Am I offering enough growth opportunities to my employees or am I accidentally keeping them in dead-end jobs?

  • Am I paying my employees fairly? Do their salaries align with the average compensation for their position?

  • Am I promoting a healthy work-life balance or am I unconsciously promoting hustle culture

  • Am I building a culture of trust where employees feel safe to offer constructive feedback?

7. Embodying honesty and transparency

Transparent relationships between managers and teams create an atmosphere of safety and trustworthiness. About 80 percent of workers want to know more about how decisions are being made by their employers, and studies have found that transparency is the number one factor contributing to employees’ overall happiness

When leaders are more transparent and honest about issues like compensation, sexual harassment claims, mommy tracking, or diversity, equity, and inclusions policies, they’re better able to show accountability and dedication. 

Here’s how good managers can be more transparent and honest about their decisions:

  • Make salary information more visible and include information about how bonuses and raises are determined

  • Set performance expectations for everyone, including themselves, using SMART goals

  • Be vulnerable and share when they make mistakes

  • Offer mentorship programs, employee training, and development opportunities to signal that you’re invested in every employee’s future

Read more: Trust, Accountability & Retention: Why Transparency at Work Matters

8. Acting as a coach

Good managers care about the success and happiness of their employees. When acting as a coach, managers should ask questions instead of providing answers, facilitate employees' development instead of dictating what has to be done, and help employees grow and make the most of their skills. 

Since the Harvard Business Review reports that more and more of the companies they work with are investing in training for their managers as coaches and coaching is becoming integral to the fabric of a learning culture, managers looking to skill up should try improving their coaching skills. 

When working together with direct reports, ask open-ended questions like: 

  • What other options do you see? 

  • What’s holding you back? 

  • How can we make this happen? 

  • What’s the number one priority you’ll focus on this month? 

  • What’s another approach that you could take?

Another good way to communicate support and coach your direct reports is through your actions:

  • Celebrate promotions and transitions to other teams

  • Show curiosity about each direct report and their interests outside of work

  • Create an action plan for employee improvement

  • Keep the door open for honest communication

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