How to Become a Great People Manager

November 17, 2009 / Career Development, Opinion / 5 Comments

I had a great opportunity to spend the last week at APEC Singapore 2009. While important world leaders and CEOs debate on the future of the world, I was there to make sure things ran smoothly for my company’s image and clients. It’s a comparatively insignificant role, but it was a goldmine of a learning experience for me. It was the first time that I got to manage a team, an event and make decisions while being fairly independent from my bosses.

I’m neither the Harvard Business Review nor an experienced people manager but just thought I’d share 5 things I’ve learned about people management:

#1: Great managers assume responsibility

Not-so-great managers are quick to assign blame. Being under constant pressure to make sure nothing goes wrong, I can understand this tendency to point fingers and pass the buck. While it makes quickly lightens the load off your shoulders, it also dampens customer experience and damages teamwork.

Your customers will appreciate when you go that extra mile, even if you fail to deliver. But more importantly, taking on extra responsibility fosters teamwork since your team will stop weighing and comparing their responsibilities precisely because you’ve stopped counting your responsibilities. This is Cialdini’s reciprocation principle at its finest. When you’re willing to take one for the team or just help them out, others will feel compelled to help you too.

But of course, the reverse is also true. When you count pennies with the team, they’ll count pennies with you too.

#2: Great managers listen

Perhaps the speed the world revolves now with Twitter and other ADD-inducing technologies has made it more difficult to attentively listen to people but great managers don’t rush to get their word in. They listen. They acknowledge. And then speak and/or act.

Appreciate what others have to say, no matter how different or perhaps, inferior they may seem to you. Innovative ideas could spring out from conversations with anyone. Two minds are better than one even if you think they only have an IQ of 50.

IQ of 50 + your IQ of 150 = 200. Enough said.

#3: Great managers are courteous

Just because you are in a superior position, doesn’t mean you get the privilege to talk down to someone. It not only makes you look crude, but also destroys team morale. And when your team morale is low, your customers sure ain’t gonna get great service. Creating a lose-lose vicious cycle just because you think you’re better than others just isn’t worth it.

#4: Great managers plan ahead

This may not be so obvious in the office but it sure is when it comes to events. Shit happens. If it does not happen, it will eventually find you and make itself happen. No matter how quiet or peaceful the status quo seems, you have to be prepared to deal with all kinds of potential shit that may be hurled in your general direction.

So don’t be complacent and plan ahead. Of course, foresight isn’t an easy skill to develop and is probably honed with experience but it never hurts to try anyway.

By the way, I appeased a very angry customer by planning ahead. Won’t go into details but this makes a good topic for conversation should we go for coffee. 😀

#5: Great managers know themselves

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned at APEC. I have talents. I have flaws. I also have predictable behaviors to certain circumstances. As a manager, I need first be able to manage myself to adapt to all kinds of situations and all kinds of people, so I could effectively manage other people. This means I need to have some level of self-awareness and self-understanding.

My interest in personality psychology has helped a great deal in learning more about myself. One of my favorite personality tests is the MBTI. Although I don’t think the MBTI is the definitive answer to self-understanding, I find that it’s a good gauge of my natural tendencies. By the way, my MBTI type is ENTJ; being an ENTJ means that:

  • Extraverted: I’m easy to talk to but I tend to speak before I think.
  • iNtuitive: I easily see the big picture and patterns in theories but I tend to overlook details.
  • Thinking: I make my decisions by being impartial, rational and logical but I tend to disregard people’s emotional needs.
  • Judging: I like to organize and plan ahead but tend to panic when I have to think on the spot

To become a better managers, people need to capitalize on their strengths and overcome their negative tendencies. Great people managers should be able to find that sweet spot between their natural personalities and the mirror image of their personalities.

And for me, that means I need to become a little more ISFP-esque:

  • Introverted: Listen, acknowledge and think before I shoot my mouth
  • Sensing: Pay to attention to minor details
  • Feeling: Take other peoples’ feelings into consideration.
  • Perceiving: Allow myself room to sometimes be spontaneous.

If you have no clue what this mirror personality bit is all about, you can read up on the four dichotomies of the MBTI here.

I’m no CEO or psychologist so I doubt my observations and judgment are 100% correct. But at 23 years old and 9 days of people management immersion, this is what I think great people managers should be like.

As always, I’m sure time and experience will change my perception again.

Dear Readers, what do you think great people managers should be like? And I’d love to find out your personality types, so do share! And if you don’t already know your MBTI type, take the test here!


  • jing

    thanks for the post 😉
    I don’t have much work experience, but relating to my team experience in school, i think leaders lacking in 1 really really annoys people. They not only point fingers but also takes all the credits of others to themselves.

    now i am thinking no 2 and 3 basically comes down to fundamental respect for each other, which is quite important if you want people to respect you as well?

    just some thoughts after reading it :)

  • http://aigoo-chamna.net Tara

    My sajangnim needs to read this, especially since they lack #2 and #3. Our workplace morale is really horrid and we have no teamwork ~___~;;

    Also, I took the MBTi test in high school and ended up with ISTP. However, they told us that usually the first two letters remain steady in our life — it’s the last two that changes as we grow older. I retook an online version of MBTi recently (Because we were talking about personality colours) and I saw that I scored an ISFJ, the protective guardian. Then I read the other “I” one, and I saw that at times I can also be an ISFP, which I found interesting since I think the J and the P are quite interchangeable from situation to situations. :)

  • http://twitter.com/French_Blast French Blast

    For me, a good manager has to lead by example. It’s very important to be respected.

  • http://sigg3.net Sigg3

    Managing great people is a real chore, and as I’ve found it it all boils down to regular exercise. I mean, when you meet great people in a shopping mall or a narrow hallway, you can easily go around them, but overall managing involves man-handling.
    So you best be prepared.

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