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Jan 8, 2015

Great managers can help companies achieve around 150 percent higher earnings per share than their competition, and double the employee engagement levels.

On the other hand, bad managers cost businesses billions, increase turnover, and bring entire companies down, yet at least 44 percent of Americans have worked for one, and Gallup recently found that 82 percent of the time companies don’t choose managers with the right talents and skills for the job.

We all have an idea of the basic qualities that make a manager “great,” so why can’t we get it right?

Hiding in plain sight

Gallup estimates that large companies have approximately one manager for every 10 employees, and within every organization one out of 10 people possess the necessary talents to manage.

When you do the math, it’s likely there’s someone on each team with the best qualities to lead, but odds are it’s not the current manager. More than likely, it’s an employee with high managerial potential waiting to be discovered.

We should better know what we’re looking for when we talk about great managers.

The winning formula

According to the Gallup study, great managers have all — not just some — of the following qualities:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

It’s about having The Write Stuff

Andreesen Horowitz CEO Ben Horowitz believes the distinction between written and verbal communication skills is so stark he uses it to separate the wheat from the chaff:

Written communication,” he says, “is superior [to verbal communication] because it is more consistent across an entire product team, it is more lasting, it raises accountability.” Great managers write, while bad managers “voice their opinion verbally and lament… the ‘powers that be’.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos values writing over talking so much he prepares six-page narrative memos for each meeting, and makes his team read them in silence for 30 minutes before any discussions are had. “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking,” he asserts.

Humility in managers impacts employees

A recent Catalyst study shows that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers they were more likely to feel included in their work teams. This was true for women and men of all backgrounds. The types of behavior were characterized as:

  1. Acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting to mistakes;
  2. Empowering followers to learn and develop;
  3. Acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and,
  4. Holding employees responsible for results.

Knowing what to look for

With such steep requirements you can understand why great managers are rare, and how it’s difficult to find a person who has the current skill set or potential to balance all of these qualities well.

Even so, managers are one of the top drivers of employee engagement, and their relationships with employees are some of the strongest bonds that employees will develop with an organization, so it’s a choice that shouldn’t be made lightly.

One out of every 10 employees has the potential to be a great manager. You just have to know where to look, and what to look for.

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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