The crucial characteristic missing in many managers

I thought I’d identified all the major personality traits needed for achieving great managerial success. However, I missed one important quality brought home to me by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Peter Hughes.

The crucial characteristic missing in many managers

When I was starting out in my first management job, my image of a good business manager was an individual who was decisive, unemotional and results-driven.

Decisions were based on rational analysis, short shrift was given to employees who didn’t do their jobs in the same way, and there was little tolerance for emotion and intuition. This was the ‘autocratic’ management era, where the boss made the decisions and the employees jumped.

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As the limitations of this insensitive style became evident, managers like myself began to realise the folly of their ways and listened a little more attentively to their staff. This was ‘participative’ management, which recognised that employees were not simply robots there to carry out your commands, but flesh-and-blood people with their own dreams, hopes and fears.

Next came the ‘collaborative’ style of management, where managers involved employees more fully in day-to-day decision-making and had far happier employees who delivered better results.

Some years ago, I was asked to address a group of farmers. Having been through all of these management phases, I chose to talk about the evolution of management as a profession.

Books on management identify the traits and skills needed to make great managers, and in my address, I listed those I thought were the most important. I worked hard on that list, and thought I had pinpointed all of the main elements needed for achieving success as a manager.

But the COVID- 19 pandemic showed me that I had left out one crucial quality.

A true motivator
On my original list I identified the following as the essential characteristics of any successful manager: ready to show trust; self-disciplined; good communication skills; a sense of humour; an entrepreneurial outlook; a stable temperament (never moody); loyal; humble; generous; energetic; calm under pressure; decisive; focused on issues, not people; and open and transparent.

However, I shamefacedly admit that there is one critical trait I missed completely, and it’s one that managers should not only feel, but demonstrate too. It’s compassion.

Compassionate managers devote time to stepping into someone else’s shoes and fully understanding their emotions and stresses. The word compassion means ‘to suffer together’, and that’s exactly the pain felt by compassionate people, triggering a desire to relieve the suffering of others.

When you treat people with compassion, they never forget it. People will want to work with you not because of what you do, but because of who you are. COVID-19 has taught me that compassion may, after all, be the ultimate motivator. Indeed, there’s growing evidence that compassionate management has a direct impact on the bottom line, as it creates happier employees who are less stressed, more committed and more productive.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.