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How to Help Every Manager Be More Like a Natural Leader

How to Help Every Manager Be More Like a Natural Leader

by Bailey Nelson

Story Highlights

  • Companies often overlook the key qualities that great managers have
  • Only one in 10 people have the natural talent to manage
  • Learn three ways to help your managers do more of what the best do

How can you tell who is worthy of becoming a manager in your organization?

If you're like most others, you evaluate people's tenure and success in their previous role -- usually a nonmanagerial role -- to determine who moves up. These factors are important; they show loyalty to your organization and hard work. And they might ensure that someone has the subject matter expertise to make decisions for a highly skilled workgroup.

But they do not necessarily reflect whether a person has the right talent to succeed as a people manager.

It makes sense, then, that organizations choose the wrong manager 82% of the time.

As a result, many organizations are missing out on the results that highly talented managers achieve:

  • 48% higher profitability
  • 22% higher productivity
  • 17% higher employee engagement
  • 5% higher customer engagement
  • 19% less turnover

What makes great managers so, well, great?

By studying 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, Gallup isolated the human attributes that predict managerial success. Highly talented managers:

  • motivate every employee with a compelling mission and vision
  • assert themselves to overcome adversity and resistance
  • create a culture of clear accountability
  • build relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency
  • make decisions based on productivity, not politics

These traits come naturally to a small percentage of people -- only 10%. The rest have to put in significant effort to succeed as managers.

Here's some good news: There are three straightforward actions that leaders can take to help all managers excel, no matter how much natural talent they have.

1. Support performance development.

The world's best managers serve as coaches, not bosses. They help employees understand job expectations, maintain accountability, and establish goals and priorities.

They continually promote individualized development and ensure each team member sees a path to achieving their career aspirations.

As a result, these managers cultivate employee engagement. At least two-thirds of employees who strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities (66%) and performance goals (69%) are engaged in their work. By contrast, fewer than one in 10 employees who strongly disagree with these statements are engaged in their work.


Leaders can position managers to serve as coaches by evolving from annual performance reviews to continuous performance development. Just as critical, leaders should empower managers with transformative learning experiences that teach participants how to become coaches who develop their employees.

2. Encourage transparent communication.

Managers who promote open dialogue and an authentic work environment can do a lot for their teams' engagement.

Why? A culture of transparency fosters a sense of stability and security -- and in turn, attracts talent and stokes employee engagement.

In fact, 55% of employees who strongly agree that they feel they can talk with their manager about nonwork-related issues are engaged in their work. Similarly, 54% of employees who strongly agree they can approach their manager with any type of question are engaged.

On the other hand, when employees strongly disagree with either of these statements, fewer than one in 10 are engaged at work.

Leaders can encourage managers to be open and approachable by setting the tone for a transparent work culture. When leaders model desired behaviors and act as champions of their ideal culture, they signal to managers what's expected and how to deliver it.

3. Focus on employees' strengths.

Managers ignite performance when they understand how their people are innately talented and what they naturally do best at work.

This is because employees in a strengths-based work environment look forward to going to work, achieve more while they are there and stay with their company longer.

In a strengths-based culture, employees are more passionate about and committed to their work, making them better performers:

  • Workgroups that receive strengths-based development achieve an increase in profit of as much as 29%.
  • Managers who predominantly focus on employees' strengths reduce active disengagement to just 1%.
  • Sixty-seven percent of workers who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged at work.

The best leaders cultivate strengths-based management by ensuring all associates (including managers) understand their natural strengths and by continuously reinforcing strengths-based principles in their work culture.

Naming the wrong person as manager can be a costly mistake. Managers singlehandedly determine more than 70% of the variance in employee engagement among work teams.

For this reason, there's no substitute for scientifically identifying and selecting manager talent.

But leaders can help every manager to prosper by making manager development a non-negotiable business strategy. Leaders who invest in their managers and support them with the right work culture lay the groundwork for exceptional performance.

Learn more about hiring and developing successful managers:

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