How to Be a Great Manager

Everyone deserves an exceptional manager. Managers play a vital role in the success of an organization. Like any skill, it’s a learned craft that takes time and dedicated effort to master. Research consistently shows that the success of managers is the greatest indicator of success for an organization.

  1. Understanding Team Dynamics: “You set the vibe for your tribe.”
  2. Getting Results: “Look ahead and move ahead.”
  3. Managing your team: “You unlock the performance and growth in others.”
  4. The Business of You: “Know your own needs, drivers, weaknesses and biases.”
  5. What’s your true north? Create a team standard & hold everyone accountable.
  6. Build a Team Culture That Brings the Bolt’s Values to Life
  7. “Don’t give orders”
  8. Making quality decisions as a leader
  9. The underbelly of team harmony: politics

Understanding Team Dynamics: “You set the vibe for your tribe.”
As a leader, your team will mirror your behaviors and prioritize initiatives (events, training, projects) that you deem as valuable or that they know they will be rewarded for. An exceptional manager knows they set the vibe for their team. Experienced managers are like organizational psychologists; they’ve studied workplace dynamics and know how to identify the key roles each of their team members play and how to engage with them based on this information to create an atmosphere that fosters belonging and drives performance. Because they are able to see what influences and detracts from their team’s vibe, they are able to develop structures and processes that allow for all team members to fully engage.

Getting Results: “Look ahead and move ahead.”
A great manager drives alignment for the team, ensures they feel connected to the mission, and enables them to achieve results. They help their team “look ahead” and see what the future looks like and how their career aspirations fit into the larger picture and strategy as well as help their team “move ahead” by removing obstacles or barriers that stop them from getting results.

Managing your team: “You unlock the performance and growth in others.”
Leaders commit to developing themselves and their team. They develop their team by learning about their career goals, strengths, and growth areas then leverage these insights to help them meet performance goals. You should have a deep understanding of your team’s capabilities and determine how to fill in the gaps so you can achieve your goals.

The Business of You: “Know your own needs, drivers, weaknesses, and biases.”
Great managers know that they can’t be effective leaders if they aren’t aware of their own stats at any given moment. As the saying goes, “before you help others, you need to help yourself.”

Create a team standard and hold everyone accountable.
Values and behaviors are one component of a team’s true north, but think about your vision for the team and what you want your function to be known for; is it innovation? Productivity? Relentless execution? Being amazing cross-functional partners? Ideally, they should be doing all of the above but if your team was a brand, what would be that brand’s signature? Team standards allow your direct reports to know what is expected of them and how you will measure their performance. You could have technical standards as well as standards of practice. These standards should describe the ideal or state of perfection that your team should be continually striving toward. This will also help with making the feedback process a lot easier.

  1. Partner with your team to create a vision and standard – Partner with your team to brainstorm and create a standard that aligns with your department. Your team standards should inspire, lead to efficiency, and encourage performance. As a team, communicate with each other why these expectations are important. These standards should be shared with new employees as they join your function but continuously iterate based on the needs of your team. Reflect on what percentage of your team is exhibiting the right behaviors and team standard. This can be an indicator to see if you have the right expectations in place.
  2. Hold yourselves accountable – Add details on how you will be holding each other accountable. What happens when team members do not rise to the occasion? Be honest about potential repercussions for not meeting team expectations.
  3. Always listen to your team – Listen to what they say and actually implement their suggestions when applicable. Listening to your team can help you identify misconceptions or problems early and nip them in the bud. This will also help you identify your own blindspots and uncover solutions you might not have thought of on your own.

Build a team culture that brings the company’s values to life

Culture is the lifeblood of a team. As the manager, you have to think about what culture you would like to create for your team. When building your team culture we want you to find innovative ways to weave in the company’s values and behaviors. Avoid creating an environment for your team that is drastically different from the overall culture of our organization. Your team culture should fit within the larger framework of the company’s culture.

  1. Team bonding – Consider how you would like your team to bond with each other and increase social interactions in an authentic manner. You have a team of diverse identities, personalities, interests, and experiences; which means you have to strike a balance to meet the needs of your direct reports. If people are connected to your team culture, they are most likely to stay engaged and energized to be at your organization. This engagement and energy in turn leads to better problem-solving and collaboration, which in turn leads to more value-creation. As managers, create events that you enjoy doing. Invite (but don’t require) your teammates to join you.
  2. Continuously celebrate your team’s success – Employees feel appreciated when they’re recognized for their hard work and achievements. Sales teams use a gong to celebrate closes. Find your equivalent way to celebrate continuous wins for your team. This also lets the rest of the company know what’s going on in your org and further brands your team’s culture.
  3. Show up – Leadership is about being there. Have daily standups so your team knows you are available. Go to an event your team member puts on. Support them inside and outside of work. Attend cultural events, serve as a mentor, and get involved in an employee resource group. Exhibit the right behaviors that reflect org. values and recognize/praise it when you see it in your team members.
  4. Encourage Fun – In this remote environment, it’s so important to build camaraderie with your team and find ways to stay connected. Engage in fun work convos, use giphy and emojis to show emotion and spice up the conversation. Send over articles or videos based on your team interests. Ask for recommendations from your team about movies, tv shows, activities to do, books to read, etc.

“Don’t give orders”
Avoid telling your team what to do. Once you start giving orders, you foster a culture of people who will always need you to tell them what to do. Give clear goals and timelines and context, and enable your team to figure out how to do the job. Ask a clarifying question before speaking so you can teach your team to think for themselves and not to take instruction.

Common Mistake – Even though you are not giving orders that doesn’t mean to delegate ineffectively. Most managers complain that they’re so busy and hence can’t focus on the real important problems. As you delegate, think about each individual’s bandwidth and divvy up projects/goals in a way that inspires and challenges everyone, while also maintaining the foundational processes of your team. Be clear with your team that there will be instances where they will be doing “unglamorous” work; being part of a startup means you are prepared to jump in to do what needs to be done.

The underbelly of team harmony: politics
Politics is lobbying to gain personal benefit. Politics can look like favoritism, secrecy, spreading of gossip, and/or unnecessary intragroup conflict. It’s poison for any team or company and the quickest way to kill productivity. Politics direct energy away from customer problem-solving and toward internal lobbying. It is a slippery slope that will quickly cause a race to the bottom. What tends to happen is one employee lobbies their manager for a benefit and then is successful in gaining that benefit. Others see this, so they in turn lobby. They then gain benefit, and the virus then spreads throughout the organization. It’s essential that you stop this early on as a manager. You can do this by:

1.Have a written policy for most situations
(Hence the Conscious Culture playbook) Apply those policies equally to all team members, particularly around compensation, raises, and promotions. Remember, if you’re going to make an exception for one team member you should be willing to make that exception for everyone on the team.

  • Only consider comp adjustments and promotions during scheduled performance cycles – Do not cave into comp adjustments mid-cycle. Exceptions should be few and far between. The most common exception is if a role opens up internally that we need to fill, and then it is filled by someone internally vs. externally. If it is a larger role tied to larger comp, then this can be considered at that time

2. Check your bias
Are you contributing to this problem as a manager? Have you shown favoritism to certain employees? Do you engage in gossip with your team? Reflect on how you may have influenced the problem.

3. Have zero tolerance for gossip
Gossip is poison to any environment and it leads to disruption. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that gossip is defined as any talk of a person’s or institution’s affairs—whether personal or professional, innocuous or slanderous. Research from The Academy of Management Review has shown that consequences of workplace gossip are:

  • Erosion of trust and morale.
    • Lost productivity and wasted time because employees end up focusing on the drama.
    • Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
    • Divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
    • Hurt feelings and reputations.
    • Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment.

Don’t involve yourself in toxic behavior and lead by example. Address any gossip that you hear head-on before it continues to spread. Ask questions to your team about how they obtained this information, what’s the intention for sharing the information, how would they feel if they were in the other person’s shoes. As a leader, don’t engage in the conversation and find ways to deflect the negative information being shared with something positive. Call people out when you hear gossip being shared on your team. Force people to speak up and address problems/questions head on.

4. Refer back to team standards
What’s the expectation for the team that we agreed upon? How is this taking away from those standards? As a manager, you can’t deviate from the team vision, expectations, and playbooks.

Additional Resources for Ongoing Manager Development

Please at least read the first and summaries of the rest.

The problems encountered in starting, growing, and running a company have been encountered by thousands of managers before. And luckily dozens of successful managers and business leaders have written down their lessons learned in book form. These books teach you almost every important aspect of running a business. While there are hundreds of such books, the following are our favorites, and considered to be required reading for any CEO or Manager.


Getting Things Done: David Allen- 10h (the # of hours required to read the book)
Personal productivity. Describes using pen/paper, simply translate that to Evernote or another electronic tool. Using this system will make you sleep better. For this, reading a summary is usually fairly sufficient: (search for others online as well)


The Great CEO Within: Matt Mochary-4h
A holistic approach to running a startup with best practices.


One Minute Manager: Ken Blanchard – .5h
Simple reporting structure that works. Simple enough that you can have all your team members read it. I recommend that you do.

High Output Management: Andy Grove – 10h
The classic tech management book. A lot more detail than 1-Minute Manager, but essentially the same structure.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Ben Horowitz – 6h
Says how great High Output Management is, and then talks about what to do in some very specific and ugly situations that no other books discuss.


Disciplined Entrepreneurship: Bill Aulet – 12h
Painful, but very necessary step-by-step guide to determining who your real customer is, what solution they want, and how to market and sell to them. If you only read and apply one of these books, make it this one.

Never Split the Difference: Chris Voss – 6h
Ostensibly about negotiation, but really about how to create deep connection and trust quickly, which is the key to an excellent relationship with your three key constituents: customers (sales), employees (management) and investors (fundraising).


Who- Geoff Smart – 6h
Excellent recruiting process that maximizes the likelihood of hiring A players only, and then ensuring their success at the company.


The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership-Diana Chapman-10h
Companies can become good using the hard skills outlined in the books above. To become great, a company must become curious and open to learning. This book shows how to do that.

The summaries are poor representations of the books themselves, as the summaries give the basic steps recommended, but not the details of why. And it is those details that are critical. Please force yourself to read all of the books above in their entirety. You won’t regret it.

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