As I continue to look for satisfactory answers to explain the dismally low level of engaged employees (only 23% of non-management employees, according to one recent national study), one deceptively simple answer occurred to me: Management is just plain difficult. Why? Because the diverse skill sets that go into making someone an effective manager are not always easy to find rolled into one person.

“Good managers are hard to find,” one HR colleague of mine used to say. When I first heard this I thought it strange. All companies have managers everywhere; surely there must be scads of outstanding ones around. But if you deconstruct the qualities of effective management, you find an unusual combination of skill sets from different professions – all parts of the whole.

Let’s consider the numerous hats worn. First, and this of course is fundamental, you need reasonable technical knowledge of your own business. But this is really just “table stakes,” so let’s assume technical proficiency is in place – and there are still five more professional skill sets needed:

You have to be a psychologist – Good managers understand their employees – what motivates them and what demoralizes them. Good managers are intuitive. They have the ability to relate to their direct reports in a way that makes them want to do their best.

You need the meticulousness of an accountant – Chances are that as a manager you’ll have budgetary responsibility. The assumption is you’ll have a degree of financial acumen, and you’ll get no sympathy from your own management if you don’t. As one senior executive I knew always implored her staff: “Above all, know your numbers.” Her counsel was simple, direct, and made sound financial sense.

It helps to have the inspirational skills of a coach – With big projects on the line and deadlines looming, there will be many times when you’ll need to exhort, inspire and encourage your directs to do their best. Coaching – guiding your employees toward desired goals – is a key part of the managerial mix.

But it also helps to have the authority of a law enforcement officer – At times, such as when the aforementioned Big Project is going off track, being an affable encouraging coach just doesn’t get the job done. At these (stressful) moments when immediate corrective action is required, you need authority and lots of it.

It’s nice to have the tact of a diplomat – All managers have multiple constituencies. At the very least they have to be able to relate well to those both above and below them: their own management and their direct reports. And both groups may have very different agendas. Tip the balance too far in either direction – please one group too much and alienate the other – and problems will result.

Many people are first promoted into management for their strong “technical skills” – solid knowledge of their own business. But that’s only part of the managerial equation; all managers wear many hats. Everyone has his or her strengths and weaknesses, but if you’re completely lacking any of these five components, management may well prove a persistently challenging endeavor.

Any critical skills missing from this list? I’d be glad to hear about them…

This article first appeared at

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Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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