Being a Good Manager: Nature or Nurture?

Recently, there was a story in The New York Times‘ business section about Google’s quest to build a better boss, an initiative called “Project Oxygen.” The wildly successful technology company, whose algorithms have changed the way we use the Internet, applied its scientific methods to analyze what makes a good manager and then mapped out a series of tenets called “The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.”  These commandments, which include “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team” and “Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented,” sound pretty obvious to us — but then again, we’d like to think of ourselves as good managers. Most people, in fact, are not.

In a survey by Business Insider, 41 percent of respondents said that disliking a boss was a driving force in quitting their jobs. And according to a CareerBuilder survey, the top issues managers struggle with are dealing with issues between co-workers; motivating team members; performance reviews; finding the needed resources to support the team; and creating career paths for their employees. No one said managing people was easy. For many, it’s the most challenging part of a job.

So, is Google right? Can simple analytics make a bad manager into a better one or are some people just born to lead and others aren’t? We actually think that the eight guiding principles Google has devised make a lot of sense. (Frankly, many seem like common sense — did they really need to apply deep analytics to arrive at “Be a good communicator” and “Help your employees with career development”?) But even Google admitted in the article that one of their more difficult and disliked managers showed improvement but didn’t become a great manager after following these rules.

So we’ve decided to offer up a few of our own “unscientific” tips for being a good manager that we try to ascribe to when overseeing our own staff:

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