Weekly Wrap: The Qualities It Takes to Be a Great Manager

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I’ve worked for a lot of different managers over the years, and if one thing sticks out from all of them, it’s this: the kind of managers  you would really want to work for again are few and far between.

When I try to count all the really great ones that I learned from and was positively motivated by, I can do it on the fingers of one hand.

In other words, really great managers are really hard to find.

Bad managers destroy employee engagement

I was thinking about that this week while reading an HBR blog post titled, appropriately enough, Why Good Managers Are So Rare. I find most HBR articles thoughtful and compelling, and this one is no exception. A couple of things from it jumped out at me.

One is this very scary paragraph (scary, that is, if you are an employer):

Managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimates. This variation is in turn responsible for severely low worldwide employee engagement. Gallup reported in two large-scale studies in 2012 that only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and a staggeringly low 13 percent worldwide are engaged. Worse, over the past 12 years these low numbers have barely budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees worldwide are failing to develop and contribute at work.”

These numbers from Gallup aren’t new, but they really jump out you in this context because they clearly show that despite the incredible focus the past five years on improving employee engagement, most organizations aren’t seeing it happen because the process breaks down at the managerial level.

What it takes to be a great manager

But, the article also noted that the engagement problem has a pretty straight-forward solution:

The root of performance variability lies within human nature itself. 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. But first, companies have to find those great managers.”

So, what does it take to be a great manager? The HBR article lists these traits, identified by Gallup, of great managers:

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  • 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 that are based on productivity, not politics.

They should make you feel good about coming to work

I would add a few more traits to this list based on the great managers I have worked for:

  • They are supportive and trusting, especially during times of stress or challenging situations;
  • They are personable and caring about employees as individuals with unique lives and circumstances;
  • They listen before acting, and they go overboard to push specific decison-making back to you whenever possible.
  • They are genuinely friendly and offer themselves up as a close adviser and someone you can easily bounce problems or issues off.

Most of all, I’ve found that great managers make you feel good about coming to work every day. They help you to keep your energy is focused on bettering the business rather than trying to figure out how to navigate the whims and shortcomings of the person you report to.

“Nothing fixes the wrong pick”

Why Good Managers Are So Rare is something you should read if you really care about great management and better leveraging your workforce that way. And just so you don’t think the article is all negative about the state of management today, it adds this:

The good news is that sufficient management talent exists in every company – it’s often hiding in plain sight. Leaders should maximize this potential by choosing the right person for the next management role using predictive analytics to guide their identification of talent.

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. Nothing fixes the wrong pick.”

Of course, there’s more than in the news this week besides what it takes to be a great manager. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Trying out for three months. What kind of people would be able to work on a trial basis for three months while hoping to get employed, and would those be the kind of people you really want to hire? The New York Times’ You’re the Boss blog talked to Jennifer Blumin of  Skylight Group, and events management company, about how she hires employees this way. “We hire everybody on a trial basis,” Ms. Blumin (says). … “For like three months?” asked Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, an energy advisor. “It depends,” Ms. Blumin said. She hopes to convert the people she is currently trying out to full-time after a month. Some of these tryouts are unpaid internships. Others are paid. Skylight gives candidates an expected salary range but doesn’t specify a precise number until it has determined the new hire’s value.”
  • How do you deal with cryptic emails from the boss? The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about those cryptic, hard-to-decipher emails you can sometimes get from the boss. This seems to be a universal problem. “Many employees labor over emails seeking guidance from the boss, only to receive a cryptic reply such as “Great!” or “Sounds good”— or no answer at all,” the newspaper reports. “The result: Confusion and frustration … (and) the potential for email misfires between bosses and subordinates is mounting, as the volume of email grows and more people read it on the fly on mobile devices.”
  • Proud to be napping on the job. Here’s a workforce trend I can get into, courtesy of The Washington Post — employers encouraging employees to proudly nap on the job. As The Post puts it, “Some forward-thinking companies such as Nike and Google offer places for their employees to nap. But for most American workers, napping in the office is frowned upon. This is a shame given the long list of benefits from an afternoon nap.”  The story goes on to list eight (8) reasons “why we should embrace and encourage naps during the workday,” including this big one — :”Napping makes you more productive.”
  • Kronos Time Well Spent cartoonKronos, the company that probably makes your organization’s time-and-attendance system, publishes a regular Time Well Spent workplace cartoon by Tom Fishburne. I post them here from time to time in the Weekly Wrap.tws19-rev-600-kpi

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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