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As your small business expands, you may begin to hire employees to delegate certain tasks to. But while you may be an expert in your business, being a good manager takes different skills. The qualities of a good manager and leader include many soft skills that will help your employees feel confident and competent in the workplace — leading to a job well done for you.

Skills of a successful manager include:

  • Empathetic
  • Confident
  • Transparent
  • Trustworthy
  • Accountable
  • Good listener
  • Effective communicator
  • Optimistic
  • Authentic

What makes a good manager?

There are several qualities that make someone a good manager, and as such, this is not an exhaustive list. However, there are nine key qualities that most good managers embody. Learning more about these skills and working to improve them in yourself can help you become a more effective manager.


Empathy is one of the most difficult skills to learn, but also one of the most valuable in the long run. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. It is sometimes mistaken with sympathy. However, whereas sympathy is the ability to show compassion for another person’s feelings, empathy is when you can truly grasp their perspective. It is often described as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Approaching someone with empathy helps you truly understand the reasons and motivations behind their actions. As a manager, it helps you connect more deeply with your employees and better understand how to help them be successful in their roles.

How to be empathetic at work

Empathy begins with stepping outside of your own mindset to understand another. Here are two tips to help you be more empathetic in the workplace:

  1. Be open: To understand someone else’s perspective, you must ask them about it. Taking the initiative to open the channels of communication will help foster trust and allow you to learn.
  2. Actively listen: Listening is a skill, and there’s no point in asking questions if you aren’t going to actively listen. Make your employees feel seen and heard by practicing non-verbal cues such as eye contact and using verbal encouragement to let them know that their feelings are valid and valued.1


Being a confident leader in the workplace benefits both you and your team. Building your own confidence can help you make decisions more efficiently and consistently. It also keeps you from feeling threatened by input from your team members, leading to better discourse in the workplace and, in the end, better output. Your confidence will inspire trust in your employees and give them permission to lean outside their comfort zones because they know you’ll be there to guide them.

How to boost confidence at work

Confidence is a personality trait that can be built and honed. Here are two ways to boost your confidence in the workplace as a manager:

  1. Ask for feedback: Receiving feedback may feel difficult at times, but all feedback is a gift. Ask your team what you’re doing well and what could be improved.
  2. Make a study of it: Competence is directly linked to confidence, and we become competent through study and repetition. There are numerous books, podcasts, and courses you can take to improve your management skills — and therefore your confidence.2


The modern employee expects transparency from their leaders. They want to know the motivation behind your decisions and how your choices will affect them. Above all, they want to be treated like adults and with respect. Your honesty will go a long way toward creating a transparent work culture.

How to be more transparent at work

Deciding exactly how to be transparent about your business and decisions can be difficult. Here are two ways to be more transparent in the workplace:

  1. Be honest: Honesty is the key to transparency. Your employees want to hear the truth, not a version that is spun for their peace of mind. Being honest will make it easier for your employees to help you meet your goals.
  2. Communicate: Keep an open channel of communication between yourself and your employees. Fostering a culture of asking questions and providing feedback that goes both ways will help you and your employees improve.3


To your employees, having a trustworthy leader means you have their backs. Growing a sense of trust in your abilities and leadership will help your employees believe in your mission and decisions. But as with building trust in any relationship outside of work, building trust in the workplace takes intentional action on your part. Making that effort will lead to a healthier, more collaborative workplace.

Tips for building trust with your employees

To begin building the sense of trust your employees seek, try these two tips:

  1. Listen to your employees: Like many of the other skills we’ve discussed so far, listening is a stepping stone to building trust. Listening makes your employees feel valued and helps you understand what they need in the workplace.
  2. Be consistent: Making decisions that feel arbitrary or inconsistent makes it hard for your employees to trust you. Be consistent in the way you give feedback or deliver news so your employees always know what they can expect from you.4


Accountability is a factor that can affect trust and transparency. At the end of the day, leaders are people too, and you will make mistakes. What matters most is how you react to those mistakes. A good leader takes responsibility for their actions and uses mistakes as an opportunity to find a better way forward in the future.

How to improve accountability in the workplace

As a manager, you must hold others accountable as well as yourself. Here are two tips for being more accountable in the workplace:

  1. Define expectations: Clearly communicating the expectations of the company and your employees’ roles will help your employees understand and fulfill their responsibilities. It will also help them understand what to expect of you as their manager.
  2. Create goals: Having goals can help you track the effectiveness of certain tasks and the progress of different projects. Being able to see those factors can help you and your employees stay on track with the items you’re accountable for.5

Good listener

Many aspects of being a good manager include listening, so improving your listening skills is always important as a leader. Keeping your ears and mind open helps you keep a pulse on the culture of your company and the needs of your employees. Being receptive to conversations with your employees, either as a group or as individuals, can help you uncover areas that can be improved. It also makes your employees feel more supported and empowered in the workplace.

How to improve your listening skills

Becoming a better listener is all about commitment. Here are two tips for improving your listening skills:

  1. Be active: Active listening means that you are fully engaged in the conversation. One way to show engagement is to repeat what you have been told in your own words to ensure that you and the person you’re talking to are on the same page.
  2. Practice: Listening doesn’t come easily for everyone, especially with other outside inputs such as technology also demanding attention. If you’re struggling with listening in the workplace, try to practice outside of work with friends and family members, and ask for feedback to become better.2


Communication is one of the most important parts of your job as a manager. Your employees’ ability to do their job relies on your ability to communicate your expectations and effectively delegate tasks. Use clear, actionable language and a respectful tone to help your employees understand what you need from them.

How to improve your communication skills

Communication is about intentional choices in the words you use and the way in which you deliver them. Here are two tips for improving your communication skills:

  1. Know your goals: Before communicating a need, whether verbally or in written communication, define the goal of the communication for yourself. Use that goal as your guide to ensure that your communication stays on task and clear.
  2. Be aware of your volume and tone: Acting in the heat of the moment can make it hard to effectively communicate. Give yourself time to process an event before you respond to ensure that your feedback is reasonable and actionable.


Optimism is an often-underrated quality of a good manager. As a leader in your business, your tone and conduct have the power to influence the culture of the business overall. The way you approach adversity will inform how others on your team do. Staying optimistic in the face of difficulties will help others do the same, and help your whole team actively work toward resolution instead of succumbing to pressures and stressors.

Tips for promoting optimism at work

Optimism in the workplace stems from maintaining a positive attitude. Here are two ways you can keep your positivity in the workplace:

  1. Show appreciation: It takes very little effort to give kudos for a job well done or to simply say “thank you.” Showing appreciation for your team members’ efforts will help cultivate a positive culture.
  2. Be constructive: When changes are needed, give feedback in a way that is constructive. Avoid criticism and instead give recognition for the parts that went well and provide actionable recommendations for the elements that require improvement.6


Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with many of the other qualities of a great manager that have been discussed thus far. Authenticity means being true to yourself in the workplace and finding a management style that is natural to you. People are drawn to authenticity, and your employees will find it easier to trust and relate to you if they sense that they are working with the real, authentic you.2

Tips for being more authentic at work

Authenticity means bringing your real self to work every day. Here are two tips for being a more authentic “you” at work:

  1. Show personality: Giving your employees a chance to see who you really are will help them empathize with you and understand your leadership style. Don’t be afraid to have conversations about your hobbies, passions, and goals to give your employees the inside scoop on you.
  2. Be honest: Authenticity is built on honesty. If you’re unable to be honest and own your actions in the workplace, your employees will be able to tell — and it will result in lowered trust in your leadership.

What is a leadership style?

A leadership style describes the approach an individual takes to manage and support their team.7 Different types of styles can also vary based on scenarios. It shows how you make decisions and use authority. 

Knowing your style type will help you provide effective guidance and make the right business decisions. It can also help you realize how employees view you as a leader and if they prefer or could benefit from a different type of approach.8

Types of leadership styles

There are a variety of types of management styles, and some may even be a blend of a few different methods. Managers or leaders may lean toward the ones that represent their preferred communication styles or personality. In the following sections, we’ll outline each type and highlight the advantages and challenges of each.

Autocratic leadership style

Autocratic leaders are heavily focused on results and typically make decisions on their own or with only a small group.8 They set specific policies and expectations that employees must follow. 

  • Benefits: They communicate clearly and directly so there is no confusion. These leaders can also help drive productivity through delegation. 
  • Challenges: These leaders are often prone to stress because they take on so much responsibility. Sometimes their lack of flexibility can make team members feel resentful.  

Bureaucratic leadership style

This style is structured as a hierarchy and divides specific duties among employees so they each have their own list of responsibilities.8 Leaders expect everyone to follow rules precisely. 

  • Benefits: With strict rules in place, this style can be quite efficient. Leaders also tend to compartmentalize and separate work from social so they can stay focused on reaching goals. 
  • Challenges: This style does not put an emphasis on using creativity, so it may feel constricting to some employees. These leaders also tend to be slow to change. 

Democratic leadership style

A democratic leader makes decisions based on feedback that they receive from their team. They often value group discussions and encourage collaboration to help share ideas.8

  • Benefits: Employees will often feel empowered and valued knowing they are a part of the decision-making process. It can help boost retention and morale. 
  • Challenges: Since leaders take the time to organize group discussions and collect feedback, it can be inefficient and costly. For those who don’t feel as comfortable sharing ideas, it can also add pressure. 

Laissez-faire leadership style

With this approach, tasks are delegated to members across the team with little to no supervision.8 Instead of spending time managing employees, leaders focus more on other projects. This style is typically used within a company that has highly experienced, well-trained employees. 

  • Benefits: This style encourages creativity and accountability in a laid-back environment. Typically employee retention rates are high. 
  • Challenges: Unfortunately, this style could be a challenge for new employees who may need more guidance in the beginning. People may also not feel fully supported. 

Visionary leadership style

Visionary leaders focus on inspiring employees to help drive progress, develop new ideas, and implement change. They create strong bonds and strive to boost confidence among team members.8

  • Benefits: Leaders can help bring teams together and grow business. They also tend to improve and upgrade technologies and practices. 
  • Challenges: Some details or opportunities could be missed because leaders are focused only on the big picture. 

Collaborative leadership style

Using this type of style, leadership works closely with team members to help boost satisfaction and help employees feel professionally fulfilled. They emphasize teamwork to produce consistently effective work.8

  • Benefits: This style of leadership helps boost employees’ productivity and decision-making skills. By working closely together, they are also more in-the-know when it comes to challenges team members may be facing. 
  • Challenges: Burnout can be more common for leaders because they are so involved. It may be difficult to dedicate time to other high-level, strategic planning. 

Finding your leadership style

Selecting your type of leadership style should be based on you and your goals. Choose one that feels truly authentic.8 It could help to ask yourself questions such as: 

  • Do I align more with structure or freedom of choice? 
  • Would I rather make my own decisions or work collaboratively with my team? 
  • Am I focused on short or long-term goals? 
  • How do I envision a healthy team dynamic? 

Then you can take a few different approaches to help determine the style you relate to the most. You could seek feedback from those around you to help get honest answers and opinions. It could also be beneficial to consult with a mentor and find out how they developed their own leadership style. Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment and try out a variety of approaches. This can help you get a better feeling of what seems most suitable.

Being a good manager and successful leader

Being a good manager is more than the ability to delegate tasks. It means supporting and uplifting your employees so they feel empowered to do the best job they can on your behalf. Becoming a good leader isn’t something that happens overnight. There is always something to learn and ways you can improve. As you work on your managerial skills, prioritize empathy, communication, and authenticity to build a culture where you and your employees can thrive.

Visit the Nationwide Business Solutions Center to access more resources for your small business including how to motivate and retain your employees.

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[1] “Empathy at Work” The Mind Tools Content Team, (Accessed May 2023)
[2] “5 Must-Have Qualities of a Good Manager” Deanna deBara, (Accessed May 2023)
[3] “How to Be Transparent in the Workplace” Indeed Editorial Team (Accessed May 2023)
[4] “How To Build Trust as a Manager (Plus Tips)” Indeed Editorial Team (Accessed May 2023)
[5] “Accountability in the Workplace: Importance and Tips for Improving It” Indeed Editorial Team (Accessed May 2023)
[6] “12 Simple Ways Leaders Can Boost Positivity in the Workplace” (Accessed May 2023)
[7] “8 Types of Management Styles for Effective Leadership” (Accessed December 2023)
[8] “8 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Find Your Own)” (Accessed December 2023)