What makes a great manager of people and projects?


Throughout my time as an analyst, WSO has been an invaluable resource. There are numerous forums on the characteristics of a great analyst, which were incredibly helpful.

As I'm moving into the next step of my career, I'm hoping to get insight into what makes a great manager. From your experience, what characteristics define a great project manager / manager of people?

Thanks everyone.

Comments (17)

Aug 5, 2020 - 1:09pm

Really interesting question.

There are undoubtedly many qualities that make a great manager and I'm sure others will have many great additions, but I'd think that something very important would be communication and delegation skills.

Your ability, as a manager, to communicate your goals clearly to the people with whom you're working towards that goal will be invaluable to work efficiently and to produce a high quality product. Once you communicate your goals for the deliverable, clear delegation of who will fulfill what roles in the workstream will enhance the ability of everyone to work in parallel to come together at the end with a high quality product, almost like putting a puzzle together.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 6, 2020 - 1:12pm

Making sure to praise work when it's good -- if all you do is criticize (even constructively) and never say "Good Job!" when someone does really well (which is generally harder to pick up on, whereas it's usually very easy to tell when someone screws up), it will gradually demoralize people

Aug 6, 2020 - 4:14pm

For me, it's all about the tone of what you convey - whether it be in person or over email. You can have a significant amount of input or corrections on someone's work, but if you can adopt a positive tone, then that person is going to feel uplifted and inspired instead of discouraged.

For example, you receive a product/deck that isn't up to snuff - you could reply in this fashion: "This is good work - here are a few things that I would suggest adjusting that might make your final product better"

This accomplishes three things: it makes the person feel comfortable that they are on the right track and that you are satisfied with the work they're doing, and it provides them with a non-judgmental set of corrections, and lastly, it makes you seem more open to providing useful advice in - for lack of a better term - a safe space.

Let's say the work quality is terrible, you can always take a different route by saying something akin to: "Thank you for putting this together (acknowledgement of their work). Here are a few comments from me: XXX. I think we're on track, but would appreciate you spending a little more time on this this time around to make sure that you're providing the highest quality work you can (criticism, but conveyed in an appropriate & professional way)."

Most Helpful
Aug 7, 2020 - 12:39pm

There are levels to this:

  • Delegation - step #1 in moving up the ladder is being able to make use of your junior resources. If you aren't able to effectively delegate, you will end up burning out because you will end up having to do your job, and the job of the one beneath you, and increasingly the job of the one above you as well. What is effective delegation? It is being able to move things off your plate with (ideally) zero need for further attention. An analyst that is synced up with your standards and methodology is worth their weight in gold because they are essentially an external backup for your brain. The very best analysts are inside your head because they are your apprentice - they know what you want without you having to spell it all out, and in a pinch they can give you two brains, four hands, etc.

  • Mentorship - This is somewhat a subset of delegation. I see too many bankers Associate and up going about their day without trying to better those working under them, because it takes more time to explain than to just demand. Then they complain about slides not being formatted correctly, analysis being done wrong, and act like this is an imposition upon them. This is an apprenticeship business, and in my opinion it is incumbent upon all of us to show those beneath us how to swing above their batting average. If you shirk this duty, you will never have a golden analyst/Assocaite/VP who is able to think on your behalf effectively. I intend my rise to be meteoric, but I expect that I will be pulling my team, and they will also be pushing me along the way. We rise and fall in this together.

  • Leadership - it's not just a word. Leaders inspire others to follow them. This is a manifold duty. It means extracting what you need from your juniors while simultaneously giving them the learning and growth opportunities they need as professionals. It means inspiring confidence in your seniors that they can ignore something once they put it on your plate, resting assured that you will handle it correctly, or raise it to them if needed (and not gratuitously). It means being likable, perhaps not to everyone, but broadly. It means having sound judgment that you can stake important decisions on. It means having the utmost in personal accountability and being willing to get your hands dirty and backstop the deal when necessary, no matter what. It means being willing to go outside your comfort zone and rise to the occasion for the good of the team. It means being willing to make difficult decisions and judgment calls when it would be easier, but incorrect not to. It means putting your trepidation aside when you must. In a tie-in to mentorship, it means having the charity and self-awareness to recognize that not all people are the same and that additionally, people are a fluid quantity. People are not the last bad project they turned in, or the different opinion they had - it is up to you to harness their strengths and weaknesses for the team's good and help them along where you can, and consider that you may too have something to learn from them.

Vision - This is a nuanced point. You need to strategize your day, week, month, year with your clients and team in mind. Don't indulge yourself in casual lapses in foresight because you aren't keeping your eye on the ball. As a junior, it was extremely frustrating when it was clear that the main reason I was staying up late and dying was because somebody way up the food chain decided to review my turn after their dinner instead of before, after landing rather than prior to takeoff, or when I had three bid deadlines coinciding by accident. I find juniors respect the hell out of seniors who demonstrate care for their well being through action, at their own expense. These little touches are the difference between feeling used at the end of a 100-hour week and feeling like you got through hell with the team but made it to victory.

Empathy - You need to be able to empathize with your team. I'm going to focus here on your senior team, though. I think as an analyst it is very easy to indulge yourself in your own notions about XYZ senior person being a bad guy, being careless, being greedy, etc. The reality is that it's lonely at the top, and while you have zero real responsibility and many peers to commiserate with, the MD has it pretty raw. Burdens such as PnL responsibilities, life-or-death political implications for their career, the need to make big judgment calls where there is no right answer and a serious risk factor (potentially with serious costs/pain on either side of the decision tree), family stuff (parents sick/dying, junior getting bad grades, wife unhappy) that they are not able to distribute among others emotionally or practically. This ties in with some earlier points in the mentorship section, but check yourself before going on a diatribe or feeling like you have it worse. Have a little charity about people and hope for the best in them, it will make you a happier person if nothing else.

Aug 7, 2020 - 12:57pm

Wow, as a prior analyst who had a golden relationship with an associate, this is all incredibly spot-on

I'll add:

-MBA associates fresh to the industry should know that an experienced 2nd year analyst will probably school them on some of the technicals or process points (for a time). Please be humble and ready to learn as you get paid 2x more while sometimes providing the 1/2 the value. I don't mean to be overly harsh - we're in this together.

-On occasion, associates should jump in to take certain pages unilaterally, splitting up the book. Never felt more motivated then when an associate would jump in and make pages. I ended up developing this golden relationship and basically serving as his star analyst for 75% of my 2-year period. You are not a VP, you do not get to say "reviewing only, PDFs only"

I would move mountains for my favorite associate

Aug 7, 2020 - 1:30pm

These are good additions.

To your first point, it should go without saying that you have to prove yourself and re-prove yourself again and again throughout your career as responsibilities and faces change. Nobody cares that you graduated summa in your wharton class if you were a non-finance pre-MBA with zero practical value. Or even if you do have pre-MBA finance experience. It's a new proving grounds when you hit a new desk, act like it and don't rest on your laurels.

And to your second point I could not agree more. If you are not of the mindset that the analyst's Friday night is just as precious as yours if not more so, you don't really have a leader's mindset. There will of course be exceptions from time to time, and it will be a situational judgment. A good Analyst/Associate team knows that the former is still paying his dues and the latter less so. It is a guild system, and a good apprecntice puts their hand up to carry the journeyman's bags more frequently than not. But if you think about the Platonic ideal of leadership, we are talking about the CEO. The CEO has no rivals left to slay (understand this is nuanced but let's simplify), no rungs left to climb. He is the captain of the ship, and if he doesn't care more about its wellbeing and that of its passengers than himself - if he is not willing to go down with the ship - what business does he have being in charge? If you cannot inspire devotion by being devoted, how can you expect to accomplish that which is most difficult?

Aug 7, 2020 - 4:35pm

This, and as a prior military officer, knowing what you don't know and admitting as much, as well as having the ability to roll up your sleeves and get dirty alongside your people when things get uncomfortable. At the end of the day, your people want to know you care about them and their well being, and that you've got their back and are willing to be the screen when the shit hits the fan. The flip side of this is that they have to be good performers, or at least be willing to learn. If they're a bunch of fucktards, then there's no reciprocity. I've been in both situations, and have gone to the mat for strong performers who have made a dumb mistake (as we all do from time to time) but have learned from the experience.

Aug 7, 2020 - 5:25pm


As a junior, it was extremely frustrating when it was clear that the main reason I was staying up late and dying was because somebody way up the food chain decided to review my turn after their dinner instead of before, after landing rather than prior to takeoff, or when I had three bid deadlines coinciding by accident.
These little touches are the difference between feeling used at the end of a 100-hour week and feeling like you got through hell with the team but made it to victory.

This whole post is fantastically worded but this bit really hit home for me. Situations like these are what made me lose respect for my manager and made me switch over to another team. I truly appreciate the managers I have now. They can ask me for the shittiest project and I would jump through hoops for them. I no longer feel used and instead feel like they have my best interests in mind. I can't understate the importance of this.

Aug 7, 2020 - 5:09pm

Nice points all throughout. I've had some shitty managers and some great ones, so I've given this some thought in the past...

Great managers are focused on other people, not themselves. They put the group before themselves, and give them the resources they need to be their best and remove obstacles that hinder the team's success.

Great managers make heroes of everyone around them. None of it is for their own personal glory, but for the good of the team and the organization. They brag in private, but apologize in public.

Aug 7, 2020 - 8:06pm
  1. Mind on the Mission - puts the team's objectives ahead of politics and individual petty differences
  2. Takes Full Ownership - like Joko Wilnick points out, good leaders take full personal ownership of the results of the team. Never shift the blame. A leader has to own the results, and that includes providing resources for the team members, taking extra time to coach and train them, and figure out what it takes to get the job done. Shirking ownership is how you get bad leadership. "No, I don't take responsibility," is bad leadership. Own it.
  3. Sets a Clear Vision - there has to be a clear direction for what the team is dong, and a clear strategic plan of how to get there. Bad leadership
  4. Cares for His People - a good leader's got your back. When you know this is really the case, you'll walk thru walls for this person
  5. Get's Dirty - a leader leads from the front.If you're making your team work overtime, you'd best be in there too. No one respects a leader who throws work grenades and runs for cover, or assigns things that they themselves can't do
  6. Gives Feedback Clearly, Often - each of us as professionals wants to become excellent at our jobs. Giving feedback only at a mid-year or annual review period is silly. My best manager took me to coffee every Friday afternoon or drinks with the team after work. If there was an issue he let me know asap with no judgement. We executed like a damn fine-tuned machine
Aug 8, 2020 - 11:16am

Not an investment banker, but this is a pretty broad question so I'll jump in.

I think there's some social desirability bias in the answers so far. Leadership advice tends to focus on particular tactics or strategies that anyone could adopt. I'm not saying this advice is worthless, but it often downplays other things that are really important but not so easy to learn. Such as:

  • Extroversion. If you want to be good at managing people, it sure helps to enjoy being around them, and to be energized rather than drained by it.

  • Humor/Likeability. You want to enjoy being around other people, but you also want them to enjoy being around you. This is where the airport test and "cultural fit" comes in.

  • Charisma/Social Dominance. You need to be able to command a room, and make people feel comfortable seeing you in a leadership role.

  • Attractiveness/Height. People respect attractive people more than unattractive people, and tall people more than short people. I know a guy who's fairly mediocre at the technical aspects of his job, but he's been relatively successful- mainly I think because he just "looks like a boss".

  • Connections. This is probably more important as you climb the ladder. Eventually you'll need to become a rainmaker who can raise capital or generate sales. In that role, it helps to be friends with a lot of rich and successful people.

Aug 8, 2020 - 6:01pm

The key to me is to make sure each and every member of the team is 100% clear on their role, where they add value, how they're doing in their role and MOST importantly, to make them feel good and valued within that role. Break down projects into pieces, delegate the pieces to people with ample direction and connect it to the larger picture, then make it clear how much their contribution is essential to project completion. Also link the project to the overall success of broader company goals which translates to a better bottom line for everyone involved.

If your employees are:
A) Clear on what they need to be doing
B) See the necessity of what they're doing
C) Appreciate the value that their piece of the project brings to the overall project
D) Appreciate the value their project brings to the company's bottom line
E) Understand the linkage between the company crushing it and the employees benefitting (rising tide lifts all ships)

Then they will generally perform.

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