Traits of the Great: 5 Qualities That Distinguish the Best Managers

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Jul 18, 2014

Bad managers cost businesses billions of dollars each year.

One of the most important decisions leaders make is simply whom they hire as managers, according to research by the Gallup Organization. Yet Gallup finds companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82 percent of the time.

This is an alarming problem for employee engagement and the development of high-performing cultures. Without the raw natural talent to individualize, focus on each employee’s needs and strengths, boldly review their team members, rally people around a cause, and execute efficient processes, the day-to-day experience will burn out both the manager and their team.

A demand for great managers

The only defense against this problem is a good offense. When companies can increase their number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees, they achieve, on average, 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition.

To make this happen, leaders should demand every team have a great manager since managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores.

Teams are composed of individuals with diverging needs related to morale, motivation, and clarity – all of which lead to varying degrees of performance. Nothing less than great managers can maximize them.

Gallup has discovered links between employee engagement at the business unit level and vital performance indicators. When a company raises employee engagement levels consistently across every business unit, everything gets better.

Gallup’s research reveals that about one in 10 people possess the talent to manage. Though many people are endowed with some of the necessary traits, few have the unique combination of talent needed to help a team achieve excellence in a way that significantly improves a company’s performance. These 10 percent, when put in management roles, naturally engage team members and customers, retain top performers, and sustain a culture of high productivity.

The traits of the great

Most companies promote workers into managerial positions for the wrong reasons. Experience and skills are important, but people’s talents – the naturally recurring patterns in the ways they think, feel, and behave – predict where they’ll perform at their best.

Talents are innate and are the building blocks of great performance. Knowledge, experience, and skills develop our talents, but unless we possess the right innate talents for our job, no amount of training or experience will matter.

Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them 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

Picking the right person for the job

The good news is that sufficient management talent exists in every company. More than likely, it’s an employee with high managerial potential waiting to be discovered.

For too long, companies have wasted time, energy, and resources hiring the wrong managers and then attempting to train them to be who they’re not. Rather, leaders should select the right person for the next management role using predictive analytics to guide their identification of talent.

Businesses that get it right and hire managers based on talent will thrive and gain a significant competitive advantage.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

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