Steve Jobs or Richard Branson? What Makes A Great Manager?

Steve Jobs: the totalitarian leader, managing the company in a dictatorial way, treating employees like dirt, always knowing better and being the only person that makes decisions in the company, at the same time a technology genius who nevertheless is one of the most appreciated and looked up to leaders in the technology industry and not only. His main focus was on the product, aiming to have the highest quality product out there while the employees were just means to accomplish this goal. Even the customers were irrelevant, having to actually embrace the product rather than Jobs ever taking into consideration adapting the product to customer needs.

Richard Branson: a real ‘hippie’ of the business world, who became an entrepreneur at the age of 16, never went to business school, became a billionaire even if dyslexic and has an overall charismatic personality. His management style focuses on allowing people the freedom to think and create by themselves, Branson being the man who said that his best ideas never came up when he was in the office. He considers people the greatest assets of the company and his success is strictly related to the quality of their work and their motivation to accomplish the company’s vision.

Even though the feelings they stir into their employees are probably different, both leaders are just as respected and appreciated, being trusted to have a vision and lead their companies to success.  One was hated, other is loved, but in the end they both get the job done and their companies are top of their industries.

This leads me to the question: what is it that makes a good manager? Should a good manager be loved or hated? Should a good manager bring the best in people through a totalitarian approach or through collaboration and coaching? Should a good manager care more about the product or about the people?

The answer to these questions might be very subjective and personal, some people might not be able to work in an environment such as Apple, some other might appreciate the fact that they are constantly pushed to give their best, but no matter the management style, there are a few characteristics that make one a great leader; those traits should not be confounded with the topic of employee motivation, as by definition being a great leader means being able to motivate and engage your employees to reach a common goal.

In the end, a great leader should:

  • Have a vision: no matter the personality of the manager, having a vision that he believes in empowers the employees and acquires their trust and support
  • Gain respect: respect is gained through excellence, bringing successful ideas into practice and accomplishing the planned results; the leaders need to position themselves as experts in their industries and gain the recognition of other experts and leaders of the industry
  • Be able to get the best out of people: how this is accomplished is irrelevant in the end (considering Jobs vs. Branson management styles for example), be it dictatorial or collaborative, if the employees deliver their best and are challenged to always overcome their limits, they will appreciate their manager and follow his vision
  • Recognize and encourage talent: a good leader sees talent and potential, encourages them and builds instruments to support and nurture that talent
  • Engage the employees: be it through challenges, be it through participation, a leader is able to make them feel part of the company and willingly get involved in the goals of the company
  • Embrace change: a leader should be able to adapt to the needs of the company, of the industry, of employees up to a point and always be flexible in order to incorporate and fulfill those needs as much as possible.

What makes a good manager from your point of view?


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