Flip the Org Chart – 5 Qualities of Great Managers

In most organizations, high performance individuals are promoted to managers, ignoring the fact that a great individual contributor is not necessarily going to become a great manager. But if even if they could become one, it is rare for newly promoted managers to get people management training. In this post I share my management philosophy, which I have been perfecting over the last few decades.

Manager or Leader? It is not the same.

The terms management and leadership are incorrectly used interchangeably. In essence they are very different concepts that require different skills. In fact, few people excel at both.

Leadership is about having a vision and the ability to rally people and resources to create a better future. Management is about sincerely caring for a team of people, empowering them, and making them productive and successful.

In my experience, the main reason why people want to become a leaders or a manager is a desire for career advancement and a higher salary. This is unfortunate, not because there is anything wrong with being career oriented, but because they are not being driven by the right motivation. Promotions and salary increases should not be goals, but consequences of effective execution, leadership, and a good people management track record.

The main motivator to become a manager should be a desire to accomplish things through people. The main motivator for becoming a leader should be a vision of the future so powerful you want to do everything you can to make real. For more on this, I suggest reading this post on the difference between managers and leaders.


Flip the Org Chart

In many ‘dilbertian’ organizations, being a manager is an entitlement, a sign of status, an invitation to get better at playing office politics. In the worst cases, managers could believe they are a better person than the team they manage.  In an organizational chart these managers would be facing upper management and will have their behind facing their employees.

It’s time for a new perspective. I invite you to flip the org chart.

What this means, in essence, is that a good manager has an inverted view of the org chart – one where their employees are at the top and they are the support. It is your responsibility as a manager to see your team does the right job and that they grow. Your role is to help them. Their career, and often the well being of their family is in your hands. This is a serious responsibility.

So flip the org chart. Be a servant leader who shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop over time. When you flip the org chart, your team is first. Your number one job is to empower and support your team to do their best job.

What do you get for being a great manager?

  • Effectiveness – You can get more things done, and done better if you are a good manager.
  • Loyalty – In general, people quit managers, not companies. A good manager is probably the most important factor in job satisfaction and career progression.
  • Satisfaction – When I look at my career, I feel more proud of the teams I have built and the people that I have helped grow than the products I launched or the programs that I ran.


What makes a great manager?

Daniel Pink believes three elements drive people at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose. This is a great concept. As a manager, how do you help your team develop autonomy, mastery and purpose in their job?

My personal philosophy as a manage can be summarized in one sentence that encapsulates what I expect from my manager, the CEO of the company, and also what I strive to provide to every member of my team.

Listen, give clear direction, provide resources and limits, get out of the way and cover their back.

This is better understood if we break it into 5 key concepts:

  1. Listening and Accessibility. Make people feel valued by listening to their ideas and concerns, understanding their point of view and listening to their feedback. Listening makes team members feel valued and you will benefit from insights that might help you be more effective. Being accessible is also important. Most managers are busy, yes, but your team is your #1 responsibility. My team knows they can text or call me any day, anytime. (if it is urgent and important). Listening is essential to build a plan with consensus.
  2. Clear Focus and Goal Clarity:Motivate people with a clear picture of the end goal. Provide clear direction as to what are the priorities, but more importantly, what is not a priority: what can wait, and what should be ignored. Focus is better defined as what not to do. Establish clear goals, expectations, and deadlines for every team member.
  3. Resources and Guardrails: Managers provide resources in the form of information, budget, people and coaching. Then they should remove barriers and obstacles. Don’t tell people how to do their job (they probably know better than you do). Instead, explain what are the guardrails: what is not acceptable and what are the rules, to set their creativity free and find new ways to get things done.
  4. Freedom, Accountability and Recognition.Once your team has goals and resources, get out of the way. This is the essence of effective delegation, Trust them to get the job done, don’t micromanage but be available to help. Empower. Authority and responsibility go hand in hand. It is unfair to give one without the other. Trust the team to perform and give them freedom to make decisions.  Then hold them accountable for results and support them with positive feedback and sincere appreciation for their efforts.
  5. Support and Growth. A manager should isolate his or her team members from problems, noise, and politics. Make sure the team knows you have their back. Earn their trust. Any good manager takes personal responsibility for the personal growth of their team members, pushes them to achieve more and to grow over time. One of the hardest things to do as a manager, and one of the most important, is to give team members constructive feedback on the areas they need to improve. Without this clear feedback, it is extremely hard for them to grow and to progress in their career.

In summary, if you are managing people because you have a sincere interest in guiding and empowering people, if you have an inverted org chart mindset, then listen, give clear direction, provide resources and limits, get out of the way and cover their back. You will be a great manager.


If you enjoy posts on management and leadership, allow me to recommend this post: Leadership is Invisible.