Basic Skills, Traits, and Competencies of a Manager

In India, being a Manager is highly valued. A majority of people see themselves taking a managerial position some day. However, can anyone become a manager? A really good manager? Are managers born or made? Do all managers, at least all good managers, share something in common?

When we look around and see the journeys being taken by different managers, their working styles and behaviors, we can hypothesize that:

  • Managers are born and made. Some folks have a natural flair to be a manager and some acquire essential skills to be a manager in a given situation.
  • Not everyone may enjoy being a manager. While you may be 'promoted' to become a manager, you may find that you don't really enjoy the time spent talking to people, driving them to results, and compiling status reports for your management.
  • It appears that good managers do have many things in common, even though they may have their own style of execution.

In this article by Rahul Goyal author of Management in India: Grow from an Accidental to a Successful Manager in the IT & Knowledge Industry , we will explore the skills, traits, talents, and competencies that are usually required and expected for playing a manager role, and also burst some myths surrounding managers.

(For more resources on management, see here.)

Skills, traits, talents, and competencies

We all have heard these terms. Let's try to understand what they mean and how they are different or similar to each other.


Skill is defined as the ability or capacity to do something, acquired through specific training.

Skills are learned abilities. Technically, anybody can take a course in a specific subject and acquire that skill. Of course, the person should have the aptitude to learn those skills.

Developing skills does not need to be in a formally-structured or schooled way. Babies develop motor skills as a natural process of learning. People develop communication skills, which are part formal learning and part informal learning.

How well somebody can translate that acquired ability, that is, skill, goes beyond the definition of skill.

In order to be an engineer, you need to acquire the engineering skills, or in order to become a chef, you need to acquire cooking skills. This alone will not make you a good chef or an engineer.


Traits are at the other end of the spectrum. Traits are personal. Traits are often linked to a person's character. Being shy is a trait. Some people are introverts and others are extroverts.

Traits determine your response or behavior in a wide variety of situations. Some people are fearless by nature and others are cautious. Traits are often described in pairs of opposing behaviors; for example, extrovert-introvert and honest-dishonest.

Many people consider traits to be innate, and that can definitely be true. However, it is not always true. There are traits that people develop by their upbringing and the environment they live in. As people progress through life they acquire new traits or modify ones they already have; these are called learned traits. Also, people display contradictory traits, so an honest person can become dishonest and vice versa.


Talent is an oft-used word in business today. A pure definition of talent from Webster's Dictionary (1913) is as follows: Intellectual ability, natural or acquired; mental endowment or capacity; skill in accomplishing; a special gift, particularly in business, art, or the like; faculty.

It sounds like a lot of things, but the key phrases are intellectual, natural, and skill in accomplishing. Talents are supposed to be God's gift to you being applied to a specific craft or job. Specific application is the key phrase here.


It is very possible that Yuvraj Singh could have become a successful soccer player had he chosen to pursue that. Anyway, we are all glad that he chose cricket.

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, is an excellent golfer now and he tried his hand at professional baseball as well. Both Yuvraj and Jordan have most certainly a combination of different talents, such as physical stamina, focus, and discipline, which when applied to a particular sport created a great performance.


Competencies are behaviors an employee displays in order to translate the knowledge and skills and leverage the traits to deliver a performance on the job.

Competencies are related to a given job function. Hence different jobs will require different competencies. An offshore software engineer needs to have the necessary technical skills to write the code and written and verbal communication skills to effectively communicate across the world, among others. In this case, the communication competency is highly valuable, given the offshore nature of the work.

If the job description changes to that of a software engineer working as a database administrator, a slightly different set of competencies apply. While related technical skills are very important, in this case, expertise will be desired given the fact that databases are critical to the business and scope for errors is less. Communication competencies are always required but basic communication may be enough for this function. However, a meticulous attitude and handling high levels of stress will be important, given the requirement criticality of the infrastructure.

Competencies are the application of all that we know and can do. Almost all employers describe a job function in terms of competencies and results required. Also, almost all employee appraisal forms will attempt to grade people in terms of competencies on some scale. For example, a competency of 'Result Orientation' may be measured on a scale of 1 through 5, and an appraiser may be advised to comment on the reasons behind the rating.

Top skills, traits, and competencies expected of a manager

Let's look at some key skills, traits, and competencies that are expected of a good manager.

Love of working with people

Most managers will spend a majority of their time managing people, and everything that is connected with people, even more so in the knowledge industry.

Do you find yourself talking to people all the time? Do people tend to bring their problems to you? And when they do so, do you see it as adding value to finding a solution, or do you see that as a headache which you shouldn't have to deal with?

If you find satisfaction in just being with people and helping them achieve their results, you have a primary quality to be a manager.

Going to parties and having a good time with people also displays that you love being around people and surely shows your love for food or drink, but not the essential part of helping people achieve their goals.

Although all interactions count, including phone conversations, e-mail, or Instant Messenger, it's the face time that has the most impact. If you'd rather spend your time in your own office by yourself, perhaps a manager role isn't for you.

You can, of course, force yourself to spend time with people as part of the job requirement, but unless you really enjoy that time, it will be hard to sustain and excel as a manager. You may end up limiting your interactions to a select few, where comfort levels are high, at the risk of alienating others.

Global managers today get less and less face time with some of their team members, sometimes as little as 12 hours in the entire working year. Without the love of working with people, the interaction with remote workers can really become difficult, as it'll take an extra effort to be connected at a deeper level than just work.

If you like to work with people, you are likely to be high on empathy. When people approach you with a problem, you may feel the problem to be your own. Even before the person tells you there's a problem, you already know there is a problem by the look on his/her face, the voice, and the body language. Your body language will be inviting and welcoming. While the person describes their problem to you, you listen intently and non-judgmentally, even supporting them so that he/she is encouraged to open up. If you are high on empathy, you may also have a feel of what kind of suggestion will work with this person and how it should be put across. You follow up and when you see the person getting over the problem you feel a sense of satisfaction.

Empathy also helps in understanding and working in a diverse environment, for example, working with people who grew up culturally different from you. Especially in India, there is a high degree of diversity with people from different backgrounds, and also while the working population is highly skewed towards men, women have a growing presence, especially in the knowledge industry.

Please note that a manager doesn't have to be an extrovert to love working with people. Extroversion is often equated with being outgoing, and that isn't the same as having a love of working with people.

Myth: nice manager

Sometimes managers wish to be seen as popular, someone who everyone wants to work for. A nice manager, who listens to his people and rarely says no to anything, be it taking vacations or a promotion. Being a people person doesn't mean being nice all the time. While being a people person is a great thing, usual business rules still apply. A good manager balances the priorities of the people and business and can be nice and tough at the same time.

Easy to approach

While you may love to work with people, the people around you should also love to work with you, and a measure of that is the number of people who feel comfortable coming up and talking to you.

A non-threatening, if not friendly, demeanor would certainly help. But even more important is the rest of the interaction that will follow. Do people come to you for problem solving and leave with more problems to solve? Do they come to you to share the overload of work and leave with more work to do? Is there a fair give and take in your interactions with people?

Myth: I'm easy to approach, I have an open door policy

Approachability is not to be confused with accessibility. Accessibility is a measure of the number of channels and the time you are accessible to others. Today, channels of accessibility are hardly an issue, given the multiple modes of contact, including Instant Messengers. Time availability will always remain an issue and you'll have to consciously make time for people. Approachability isn't the same as availability or an open door policy. Your approachability is defined by the way you respond to people's attempts to get in touch with you. Do you respond quickly and positively, or do you buzz them off for a few days? Do you have a friendly disposition towards people? Do you let people speak? Do you listen to what they have to say before responding? All of these define the degree of approachability you exhibit.

Farmer mentality: sow, nurture, grow, reap

There are thousands of types of jobs, but none of them is as involved, as complete, and perhaps as spiritual as farming. It requires hard work, investment, belief, knowledge, teamwork, patience, faith, ownership, and a sense of creativity. And of course, the elements of risk, especially in India where farmers still depend on the monsoon.

Farmers go through a cycle of preparation, investment, nurturing, protection, seeing it grow, and then enjoying the benefits of all the effort. They go through this year after year and while they make it better every cycle, they take the losses when decisions go bad. Nevertheless, the basic approach remains the same.

Managers need to develop the traits of a farmer. You need to have a sense of preparation and investment, since it's the most basic, key part of the process and then wait while nurturing and supporting for the benefits to roll in. This needs to be done with every person, process, and project.

Myth: fast moving managers—in a tearing hurry

Some people believe that a hotshot manager is always juggling many tasks and pushes everyone to move faster, but that simply isn't true. Most exceptional managers have a farmer mentality.

Farmers are always required to be patient. You can't push certain processes to be faster than the natural cycle. You can help and catalyze, but improvements are usually marginal and need to be evaluated for the long term. Too much of anything, even the catalyst, can yield bad results. Managers also need to be patient and respect the personal growth cycle for each individual and for different processes. Managers can help catalyze the process but need to allow the cycle to take it's own course. Once a growth or improvement cycle is over, the next growth cycle can start.

Core values: honesty, integrity, truthfulness, trustworthiness, consideration for others, and more

There is no substitute for core values like honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. These are very important for any employee in general, and are even more important for managers, as managers have a high impact on people and processes.

There will be many challenges that will come a manager's way and many decisions that managers need to make. Core values will be a guide in all of these. Many questions cannot be answered by looking at the rulebook, but very easily answered by using the value system yardstick. There will be lots of opportunities for a manager to make quick gains, by using a shortcut and possibly lowering the value standard. This would usually be impossible to sustain, and will come back to haunt you in the longer term.

Consider this: Vijay comes to his manager's office and expresses the monetary problems he is facing. He is a good contributor and quite important to the current project. Vijay mentions that he has an offer for about 30 percent more than what he makes right now and although he likes the company, he'd like to resign. The manager's options are to relieve him in a month's time or promise him more than 30 percent in a few months' time when the annual salary revision is due. The manager knows that it may not really be possible to give Vijay 30 percent because the expected budget may not allow that; however, Vijay may stay until then and the project will be past the critical stage. At the same time, the manager is not breaking any rules, as he is fine with giving Vijay a 30 percent raise if the budget is available, plus the manager can always say that upper management rejected the change.

Even simpler situations such as taking a day off for being sick while you are really not or using the official network and resources to watch adult material or taking office stationary home are all situations which call for basic values to be applied.

Values are the foundation of good behavior and nothing less is expected from a leader.

Not a myth: corporate greed

The recent financial crisis the world underwent is a grim reminder of corporate greed, which of course is a result of a few individuals propagating a culture of greed through the system. Poor governance and integrity standards have led to many a scandal with dire consequences. Satyam in India or Worldcom in the US have cost thousands of jobs and the loss of credibility for the entire industry.

Tolerance for ambiguity and patience

We all know: the better the map, the easier it is to follow, but unfortunately the working map in an organization is not always clear. Sometimes the destination is not clear and there are multiple ways to get there and also, there are too many detours. You'd be lucky if the map does not change half way through. It would be great if the directions to follow were clear, but who is supposed to make it clear and easy to follow? A manager needs to deal with this ambiguity—find the best way given all the other factors.

Ambiguity is the order of today's knowledge industry. A lot of things are fuzzy and need definition. It takes time to remove some of the fuzziness, and a manager needs to deal with it. It will require tolerance for fuzziness and patience to figure it out.

Some people are pre-disposed to display patience, and others can learn to be patient. Patience defines the quality of your daily interactions, your responses, and some people believe, your respect towards others' opinions. Simple day-to-day necessity, like good communication, requires you to be patient. Patient people wait for others to complete their thoughts so they can take the time to respond well and with complete information.

Good communication skills—especially listening

Communication is the bread and butter for a manager. There is a lot of information which needs to be processed and communicated by a manager in all directions, to his directs and beyond, to his management chain, and also to many other parallel groups.

Communication is NOT smooth talking. Many people confuse good communication with fast talking or smooth talking, where one person dominates a discussion and the other party.

Good communication is not a love of talking. A rather quiet person, who can listen to others and respond with clarity, is a much more powerful communicator than somebody who simply loves to talk.

Communication includes all forms of communication, the usual written communication such as e-mail and formal memos, letters, and so on. New age communication such as SMS, Instant messaging, and so on, and verbal communication, via phone or video conference and with the person face-to-face.

Body language is also part of communication, although it's becoming less of a factor given that a majority of communication is not face-to-face anymore. Even people who sit half a floor away communicate via e-mail or IM. The tone of your voice over phone or tone of your instant message plays an important part in perception of the message.

Good communication skills also include understanding your audience and communication in such a way that the audience can understand and communicate back to you. As such, your communication style will change a little based on the audience it's intended for.

Finally, the single biggest factor in good communication is listening. Unfortunately, the importance of listening gets lost very often and a large population of people suffer from a lack of listening.

Especially in India, people tend to cut into a discussion or start talking before the other person has finished, and perhaps get impatient to answer with the assumption that they know what the other person is talking about. Indian managers do need to work twice as hard to develop good listening skills.

Myth: quiet people can't be managers

Many people believe that managers are people who stand up and speak at every opportunity. It's not uncommon to see meetings where the manager takes all the talking time with very little being said by anyone else.

Remember the term talkative. The term instantaneously takes us back to middle school, when kids who would talk too much in the class were called talkative. It's often believed that managers need to be talkative. At every opportunity they get, they talk. It is indeed true that a large number of managers tend to talk too much, and unfortunately the problem grows over the years. Over time, people tend to avoid managers who ramble.

You can be a quiet person as such, and as long as you don't shy away from speaking when it is required, quietness will be a strength. I have been fortunate to meet a lot of highly successful managers, who are quiet by usual standards but have an impeccable record of delivery and team management.

Team building—hiring, retaining, developing good people, and nurturing team spirit

Another key competency for a manager is to be able to build teams. Although, at a literal level, a team is made up of a set of people, in reality a team isn't really a team without the binding glue called team spirit. A manager is as good as the team he/ she builds. A manager's capacity and ability to deliver is equal to the capacity and ability of the team.

To start with, building teams requires good hiring skills. It requires:

  • Position identification.
  • Defining skill requirements for the position.
  • Defining the process for identification and skills testing. Most organizations will have a pre-defined process and supporting team to do this.
  • Look for fitment.
  • Deciding appropriate compensation.
  • Following required organizational process for completing the hiring process.

Besides having a team, it is important to configure a team. For example, a team of 10 people may need to be balanced in terms of experience, youth and freshness, and a variety of technical skills.

A team needs to have defined positions and each team member should know what role and position he/she is supposed to play.

Finally, a manager needs to create an environment to foster team spirit and bonding, so that a set of people works as a team and not as multiple individuals.

Once a team is in place, a manager needs to constantly nurture the team and also the individuals. Most people love to work in a team, but they are individuals too and have unique needs and aspirations. This will lead to better retention, which is a definite success criterion for a manager in today's knowledge industry.

(For more resources on management, see here.)

Performance management

Ensuring good performance and consistent performance from every individual is a core competency of a manager and absolutely essential for success. In a way, performance management is a side effect of many other competencies, such as result orientation, communication, project management, people skills, and so on. A balance and purpose in all these skills will bring about good performance automatically.

Performance management is the long-term management of performance of the individual and the overall team.

Myth: maximum output

Performance management is NOT about getting the maximum output. Often managers confuse delivery of the maximum using as little resources to be a mark of performance. Signing up for more work, and then putting people under pressure to work harder and longer hours is not performance management. Continuous pressure on people may result in burnouts and hard to repeat performance. The keyword in performance management is consistency. What is valued is performance of the team and the manager that is consistently high.

Problem solving

One of the key competencies for a manager is to be a problem solver. A manager is in a unique, perhaps the best, position to solve a problem. Close enough to the ground realities to understand the basics of the problem, and far enough away to understand the big picture and consequences.

He/she has the resources, technical and physical, which may be required for problem solving. He/she needs to rally his/her team and the supporting cast to come together to solve problems.

The nature of the problem could be technical or administrative or personnel- related. Given the job profile, a manager may face more technical problems, hence technical and analytical skills may be most important, or most of the problems may be co-ordination-related, hence communication and organizing skills may be most important. Regardless of the skills required, everybody expects managers to be problem solvers.

Approaches to problem solving may differ and the working style to solve problems will also differ from one manager to another. It is often seen that two managers from the same organization and even performing similar roles have very different styles of problem solving, and both may be successful at it. However, the popularity score of one may be different than the other.

Myth: every problem is my problem to solve

Problem solvers love to solve a problem. However, not every problem that shows up at your door is yours to solve. Every time you see a problem doesn't make it yours to solve; although you may have the capability to solve it, it's better for the right area owners to take care of the problems. This leaves you with more time to focus on other issues in your own area. It's of course ok to help if you can.

Especially in India, managers tend to take on more than their fair share of problems. Part of that is culture, where the leader seems to become responsible for everything.

In general, anything that is handled by any of your team members, as a matter of routine, should be delegated immediately. If it needs to be given priority, indicate that in your communication and follow up as necessary. However, don't try to do it yourself. At times, things may be escalated and may require extra skill or experience. In such cases, even routine tasks may be required to be handled by the manager. For example, a customer requested bug fix can be delegated in general, but if this issue is very complex, has been going on for a while, and is escalated to higher management, it will be prudent for the manager to get involved closely, including making the code fix, if required.

Always an eye on the ball—results orientation

Everybody loves a positive result. And consistent good results are very highly valued in the business world today.

Achieving results is not easy, as most managers end up with a lot of different priorities and little time. Besides, fire fighting has become part of the daily routine for many a manager. It is very easy to get busy in the daily work and lose sight of the end results to be achieved.

Besides, in today's dynamic environment, even simple tasks may not turn out to be simple, and unexpected problems show up all the time. In today's knowledge industry, the biggest problem is loss of people, which creates multiple problems of overload, transition, and commitment.

Successful managers will keep an eye on the ball, where things are and where they are going, and carefully chart the course so the end results are met.

A manager's success will be partly defined by the quality of results and partly by the journey to the result. If the journey to the good results is not great, it'll leave a bad taste for all the people involved, and will make it harder to repeat a good performance, hence impacting the consistency of a manager.


Decision-making is one of the casualties of today's knowledge industry. Since there are many players in the decision-making process, the decisions get put off for another discussion. In general, many people seem to shy away from making a decision, since decisions bring a responsibility with them and perhaps an onus to follow through. Do you tend to avoid decision-making by either waiting it out till somebody else makes it or getting into an analysis paralysis?

Decision-making will typically involve:

  • Information analysis of various kinds
  • Looking at alternatives
  • Involvement of multiple parties
  • Risk analysis
  • Prioritization
  • Impact on people and processes
  • Impact on a team or a company's external image
  • Consideration for ethics and values
  • And of course, multiple outcomes or consequences to be considered

Most of all, decision-making requires someone to be ready to take on the responsibility of the decisions and not be fearful of getting blamed. Some of these abilities are a result of exposure to decision-making as we grow up.

Especially in India, parents tend to bubble wrap the child from the vagaries of the real world. There are many kids who go to college and still have their wardrobe being decided by their mothers. Many have their parents accompany them when they go to a new town, so they can be helped. Thankfully, a large number of people do get the independence to make their own decisions, at least enough of them.

A manager is expected to make decisions and stand by them. Not all decisions require a detailed process and are done as a matter of routine. But even routine decisions are required to be consistent. For example, a simple decision of approving casual leave for a team member requires you to be consistent about when and how often casual leaves should be taken. One team member should not be questioned more than the others unless there's a good reason. Decisions based on core values will tend to be consistent.

There are decisions that have a long-term or high impact and require a detailed analysis. For example, policy decisions and financial decisions usually have long- term impact. Some decisions may not have a long-term impact but may impact a large number of people across multiple teams. For example, a simple decision to have everybody verify and confirm some personal data seems to be a simple one and perhaps takes only about 5 minutes of an individual's time, but when calculated across a 50,000 people organization, strain on network resources, follow-up, and reporting, the cost of such a decision is not trivial.

A manager's decision-making abilities will be tested everyday and are instrumental in the successes of the team and the manager.

Myth: well-informed decisions

Many decisions are delayed for the want of more information. Everybody wants to take well-informed decisions, since a well-informed decision is likely to be accurate. The reality is that most decisions get taken in absence of all the information or because someone has the confidence in making that decision (or perhaps the ability to deal with the consequences if things don't turn out well).

The problem lies in the fact that there is too much information that needs to be analyzed. Even if you can spend the time to do all the analysis, the decision may still not turn out well, since some parameters may change.

Managers need to make a call sooner or later and get just enough confidence to go ahead.

Project management and execution—delivery

Most managers will have some delivery responsibility, either it's product features, projects in IT organizations, or better service efficiency in KPO/BPO industry. Every individual in the team has some measurable deliverable, and the manager will have a sum total or a larger than sum deliverable.

In order to make successful deliveries, effective project planning and execution skills are necessary. While most organizations have set processes and planning tools, these are best utilized in the hands of an effective manager. Also, all good processes and tools leave some flexibility to be exploited by a skilled professional.

Finally, a plan is just a map on paper, and ground realities will almost always force you to re-calibrate and adapt to changes as they happen around you. In today's complex networked world, problems will show up that'll force you to re-plan and re-evaluate the goals, and sometimes reset the expectations of the stakeholders. These are skills that are most likely acquired through experience.

However nice and loved a manager is and however smart and educated he/she may be, the ultimate test is the delivery test. If a manager can't deliver, there isn't much point in having him/her around in that role.

In order to deliver, a manager needs to understand the success criterions or parameters of success that are expected. For example, an important software module, a fairly complex piece of code, may be delivered on time with bulletproof working and great performance, however, it may fail the success criteria of maintainability and being easy to debug, or security, if these were not taken into account.

Some of the skills tested for execution are:

  • Planning and tracking
  • Allocating resources and budgeting
  • Responding to contingencies
  • Managing change and course correction
  • Calm under pressure
  • Defining clear success criterions and communicating the same to the team
  • Reporting and keeping the organization informed

Delivery is what the organization is set up for. All other competencies and skills are really for achievement of delivery.

Myth about flawless execution

There's an often-used term called flawless execution. It's many a times understood as, execution without any problems, which is completely contrary to the real world. Many managers become fearful of making a mistake, or worse, they run into issues and hide them for want of being seen as flawless. While it is always good to foresee a problem and plan for it beforehand, in the real world, unseen problems are part of any execution. Managing unexpected problems also displays strength in execution.

Grip on technical knowledge/domain

A manager is not about just managing people or processes or spreadsheets or outcomes. A manager needs to know the product in great detail, including technical or specific domain-related details.

If you are managing a team of technical people and managing a technical product, there is little chance that you'll command respect from your team and peers if you aren't able to keep up with the technical details. It'll also be extremely difficult to contribute to your team members' work and estimate or evaluate the work being done or make decisions if you aren't at the desired level of technical expertise.

It also applies to managers who manage a work process. Without the domain knowledge and in-depth process understanding a manager will find it hard to manage.

In India, a lot of people become managers very early in their career, and tend to lose touch with the technical aspects. Although they manage since they have a strong foundation in technical aspects and started in the trenches, they would be able to do even better if they had the inclination to be connected technically too.

Think customer—customer orientation

Good managers understand their customers. They understand the impact of the work on a customer's business. They understand how the work being done may benefit or may harm a customer's business. After all, customer benefit is the underlying theme of all work being done.

From a very simple perspective, everything that an organization does is meant to eventually deliver value in shape of products or services to the end customer. The customer pays for it and must get what he/she needs from the products an organization is selling. Customer orientation is a key competency for any organization, and almost all managers get evaluated on this. Unfortunately, many a times, customer orientation tends to get lost in the layers of the organization.

Managers are expected to understand who their customers are. Customers can be internal or external.

In the product development organizations, the end customer may not always be visible, but internal customers should be. Sometimes, organizations choose to use the word consumers instead of customers, especially in the case of product development teams that are responsible for building framework or infrastructure that other higher-level products may use. For internal support organizations, like network support, other internal organizations, which are users of the network, are the customers. In services organizations, the end customer is the client people are working for, but there's also the client's customer that needs to be kept in mind. In BPO organizations, like telephonic support for a PC maker, the employees are the closest to the end customer. In outsourced BPO operations, the customer is the client and client's customers.

Typical expectations from managers on customer orientation are as follows:

  • Understands who customers or consumers are
  • Understands the customer scenarios
  • Works to understand the customer needs and maps them into the work being done
  • Prioritizes work based on customer impact

It is often not easy to know what will eventually have the most impact on the end customer, since the eventual impact on the customer is a combination of many things that an organization does, it is extremely important that managers understand the impact their work can or must have on the eventual customer.

A very typical example is the way User Interfaces get designed in a software product. A simple "Order Entry" form may have many fields that are laid out in a single form. The layout of the fields is extremely critical to the productivity of a user. If an operator is taking the orders over the phone, the layout will be very different than the order being filled out online, directly by the buyer. A smart manager would think about the usage of the product and not only try to create a form that simply lays out all the details of the form, as listed in the requirements document.

Any discussion on managerial competencies would be incomplete without understanding emotional intelligence. While the concept of emotional intelligence was being researched and talked about for a long time, it became a big topic of interest after the publication of the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and the subsequent bestseller book, Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is described as social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one's thinking and action (definition by Solovey & Meyer, 1990: Referenced from the paper Emotional Intelligence: What is it and why it matters by Cary Cherniss).

To understand emotional intelligence, consider this example: a top Indian software company hires two fresh graduates, Jay and Veeru, from a highly-rated engineering college. After four years of education and being in the classroom every day, they are looking forward to the professional world and some real action. They know they are supposed to have one month of technical training. Two days after joining, they are both gathered in a large meeting room and told that they'll have three months of technical training boot camp due to a recent policy change. Everybody, including Jay and Veeru, is frustrated at the thought of hours and hours of lectures and classroom time. Veeru stands up and asks the question, "Why did you hire us, if you think we need to be trained for so long?" There is a stunned silence in the room and then murmurs of agreement followed. Veeru is encouraged and adds, "You should not play with people's careers". The coordinator simply replies something to the effect of, this is a policy decision and they should talk to HR manager if they'd like to. On the other hand, Veeru's friend Jay asks a simple two-part question, "Can we have a choice of different courses, so we don't do exactly the same basic training and can we simultaneously work on a small real project on the side?"

Who do you think is more likely to succeed in future or turn out a better job performance? Frustrations and unexpected turns are part of any job today, especially when we deal with large, complex problems. Both may have similar grades (a measure of technical or academic capability) coming out of college, or Veeru may have much better grades than Jay. Veeru let his emotions get the better of him; he feels cheated and angry and is unable to control or channel the anger. He resorts to accusation and wrongdoing. Jay is not happy to hear either and is perhaps, equally frustrated. However, he tries to understand the problem a little more by trying to get some more background, and possibly find a solution in the given situation, where he has no control whatsoever. However, he does have control over his emotions.

It is argued that the EQ matters more than the IQ in long term job performance. While IQ and technical skills are important for getting into a job, once there everyone around may have a similar level of IQ. The differentiation and professional success is highly likely to come to people who are high on EQ.

Dr Goleman also describes the five dimensions of Emotional Intelligence in the Emotional Intelligence Competence framework. Three of these dimensions, self awareness, self regulation, and motivation, fall under personal competence, which determines how people manage themselves and two, empathy and social skills, fall under social competence, which determines how people handle relationships.

Personal competence

Personal competencies determine our understanding of self and how we control and leverage our emotions:

  • Self awareness: This is all about knowing yourself, your emotions, and the effects of these emotions on you. When do you feel happy? When do you feel satisfied? When do you feel hurt? Do you understand which emotions make you bonkers? As a person, what are your strengths and weaknesses. Do you consider yourself high on confidence?
  • Self regulation: This is the management of yourself, your emotions, your responses, controlling your impulses, and leveraging your strengths and managing your weaknesses. Self regulation also applies to managing your indulgences and greed and staying honest and trustworthy.
  • Motivation: This is about emotional tendencies that guide and facilitate reaching goals. Do you have a drive to achieve? Do you strive to attain your goals? Do you try to improve in order to exceed the set standards of excellence? Do you have a resolve to complete what you started and attain the results, despite problems? Do you align your efforts with the efforts of others in order to get the synergy required and attain larger goals?

Social competence—how we handle relationships

There are two dimensions of social competence, namely, empathy and social skills:

  • Empathy: This is the awareness of others' feelings, needs, and concerns. Often visualized as being in somebody else's shoes, empathy helps us understand the other side of the equation and helps understand the perspectives of the other people concerned. Empathy is key in service orientation and understanding of customer needs and responding to them in an effective manner. Empathy also helps in today's diverse environment, especially in India, since India is easily the most diverse country in the world.
  • Social skills: These are your models of interaction with the individuals and the general population around you. It's the adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others. Communication is primary to social skills; it includes listening and the ability to convince others. It also includes the influence that you have on others as a virtue of leveraging your strengths. Social skills help you bring people together for a common purpose and keep them focused. Social skills can help you resolve conflicts and get you out of a jam.


So, what's the verdict? Is a manager born? Or raised? Or created in a management institute?

Perhaps the answer is the usual option D: all of the above.

There are quite a few listed up there, but you don't need to be a master at all or any of these. There's a learning curve in managerial skills also, just like technical skills and if you work consciously and apply thought, these skills will get enhanced.

Besides the usual skills and competencies, quite clearly emotional intelligence is core to a manager. Some of the EQ seems like inborn and natural tendencies, a lot of it is a result of the social environment we grew up in and learnt as we grow in our professional and personal lives. It appears that self-regulation may improve as people work on it.

A lot of the other skills and competencies, such as project management and communication, can also be learned and improved upon. Many managerial programs aim at enhancing these skills. However, empathy and self-motivation are hard to cultivate. Core values are part of our core and not easily replaced.

It's possible to manage work by sharpening your project management, hiring some good talented people, assigning tasks to them, and measuring people based on empirical success parameters. This will likely get the job done, possibly also get the manager a promotion over the years, and most certainly a salary raise.

However, without the soft skills required, without empathy and love of working with people, without people-centric management, without core values, it would be impossible to be a manager that people admire.

Finally, are great managers created in top management institutes?

Certainly not! People who learn management formally really acquire the knowledge about the various aspects like finance and operations, which will certainly help understand the business aspects much better than most others. They also learn about how to break down problems and manage processes, hence making them skilled at execution. Besides, management students also learn about various human aspects and theories on human behavior, which will hopefully help them understand people a little better. Top management institutes already shortlist academically high ranking students, so IQ is high to begin with. So management graduates should be ready to manage work and if the same management graduate happens to have all the other essential people skills, this person can be the right person to work with.

Further resources on this subject:

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Management in India: Grow from an Accidental to a successful manager in the IT & knowledge industry

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