Dear Santa, I’d like to be a better manager in 2018

You don’t need an elf on the shelf to tell if a manager is on the naughty or nice list

The prospect of missing out on a sackful of presents is usually enough to keep kids on their best behaviour for at least three months of the year. Unfortunately, no such seasonal sanctions exist for managers that have been naughty rather than nice during the year.

Narcissists, psychopaths and bullies aside, most of those in managerial roles want to do a good job. However, human shortcomings, not getting adequate training for the role or being fundamentally unsuited to managing people can bring the whole management process crashing to the ground, leaving disaffected teams and disgruntled employees in its wake.

Managers are made rather than born and most become accomplished through a combination of training, good mentoring (if they’re fortunate) and experience.

In an ideal world, those with an aptitude for the process gradually mature into well-rounded individuals who lead by example and who value, respect and empower their teams.


There are as many management styles as there are people, but a common thread among the really good ones is the ability to identify people’s strengths and play to them. These leaders manage their teams as if they’re playing chess rather than Ludo, where the pieces are all the same and there is just one simple outcome.

There are also strong practical reasons for assigning tasks based on individual strengths. For one, people will get things done faster if they’re good at or like something and, secondly, they feel more accountable if their particular talent is being showcased.

Keep learning

Good managers listen, recognise employees’ preferred learning styles and what presses their buttons in both good and bad ways. They also know that they need to keep learning and pay more than lip service to staying abreast of trends likely to shape their sector in the future and change how their organisation and its employees will work.

A manager doesn’t need to be a world expert on AI (artificial intelligence), for example, but he or she certainly needs to be aware of the potential impact of such evolving technologies on the business landscape.

Sticking with the Christmas analogy, let’s call these paragons of management virtue “nice”. Their “naughty” equivalents are those who exhibit less desirable qualities – from being bad at delegating to being rude, disingenuous, secretive, judgmental and always right. Also guaranteed to drive their staff bonkers are bosses with poor communication, planning or organisational skills, micromanagers, and those who are unclear about strategy and objectives at both individual and corporate levels.

"Good managers set clear goals and targets that stretch people but speak to their talents," says Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London and the co-author of High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work.

“Good managers also give regular and helpful feedback on both strengths and weaknesses, particularly with regard to what to do differently. Finally, they should be there to support staff in all ways when they need it,” Furnham says.

Support is the key word here – not doing the job for them or hovering as they do it like a "helicopter" parent. As US statesman Theodore Roosevelt put it: "The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

Better watch out: are you a naughty or nice manager?

A good manager . . .
Has a clear vision for the business.

Sets strategic goals with his or her team.

Talks the vision and strategy consistently.

Can visualise people’s potential and will help them achieve it.

Directs the team as a group but also manages members individually to ensure everyone is on side.

Delegates to achieve clear objectives and backs people with the resources to achieve them.

Continually praises effort as much as results.

Recognises that not everything works and that mistakes, missed targets or failures are the engine of creativity that overcomes obstacles and drives achievement.

Shows genuine interest and care for employees and is visible, accessible and approachable.

Asks lots of questions when team members present with a problem, as this will often help employees see the best way forward for themselves.

A bad manager . . .
Is self-centred. It's all about the optics and how they look to others in the company.

Is quick to blame and equally quick to take the credit for someone else’s work.

Thinks it’s okay to shout, use bad language or put people down in the presence of others.

Doesn’t listen, consult or praise.

Will walk on anyone that gets in the way of their career ambitions and is unreasonable, demanding and often indecisive.

Will procrastinate and blame the team when something is late.

Won’t ever apologise.

Is often away from their desk as they curry favour with those in more senior positions.

Is sparing with information as they confuse knowledge with power.

Gives poor or conflicting direction.