FOR decades, businesses have been trying to discover the formula for the “perfect” manager.  There are tons of books, blog posts and editorial articles out there, and even training courses on how to be a better manager. 

While I cannot claim to have unlocked the secret theory of management, discussions with bosses and managers since 1987 have revealed the traits of the “perfect” manager:

Know how to be tough

Many managers are tough on themselves, tough on their customers and sub-contractors and even tough on their families — but soft on their team members.

The reasons could range from difficulty in hiring suitable people due to the tight labour market and caps on employing foreign workers in many industries to poor people-management skills.

As a result, managers are afraid of telling staff what they expect from them, giving negative feedback when required or being tough on poor behaviour or performance. It is no surprise that their subordinates climb over their heads.

On the other hand, toughness does not mean being unreasonable and difficult. There are some managers who are abusive and aggressive, and bully their staff with threats. Hated by all who work with them, such managers will not be able to inspire high performance levels in their staff, let alone be able to keep them.

The middle path is the right path: Be tough on the problem but soft on the people. Good managers give their staff clear ideas of what is expected of them. They praise them for work well done, coach them if their performance level drops and care about them as individuals.

By engaging their people positively, these managers inspire loyalty and staff retention rates improve.

This type of “tough” manager is highly respected by his people.

Know when to collaborate

I have met many managers who are very confident, but confidence alone may not be enough for career success.

Today’s workplace is not for lone rangers. Successful managers collaborate with and support one another. A little bit of friendly competition is fine, but it is not wise to play office politics and sabotage your rivals.

One easy way to tell if your manager is collaborative is to see how willing he is to help other departments achieve their goals.

Know what makes people tick

To understand people is to know why they behave in a certain way. Once you have this knowledge, it is easier to influence them to see your point of view, without forcing it down their throats.

The “perfect” manager understands human psychology and has high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ). He knows how to motivate people to work towards shared goals. This manager could organise a training session for staff on a Saturday and his people would immediately think he must have a very good reason for doing so!

Know how to sell

Selling is about persuading and influencing people and not just about pushing products and services. Negotiation itself is selling. If a manager cannot sell his ideas, how is he going to inspire his team to sell company products and services?

Forcing people to agree is futile; they will only go on the defensive. Thus it is a good idea for managers to go for sales training to help them improve their influencing skills.

Know how to find solutions

The “perfect” manager is resourceful. He has the ability to research and come up with solutions that other people do not think of.

Managers are expected to have higher levels of expertise in some areas than their staff, but they obviously will not have all the answers.

The more important point is that they must be diligent and do their homework so that when they are faced with tough questions, they will know how and where to find the answers.

A poor manager will not be able to “bluff” his way around for long — he will soon lose credibility among his staff, and they will find it hard to respect him as their leader.


Article by Andy Ng, a business coach, consultant and trainer. He is the founder of Asia Coaching Training, which runs courses on leadership, people management, team building and communication. For more information, visit