skip to main content
Why Managers Need Leadership Development Too

Why Managers Need Leadership Development Too

Story Highlights

  • Managers have a huge impact on employee engagement and business outcomes
  • Many organizations are underinvesting in managers' leadership potential
  • Managers need leadership skills for their teams now and for the future

Are managers different from leaders?

This is an age-old debate. Some believe that the roles are different -- and should be. The perception is that leaders are big-picture thinkers, visionaries and stewards of strategy. Managers, on the other hand, are the ones who "get things done," execute leadership direction, and direct teams.

But the world is changing. Driven by the incredible pace of change in globalized business and the new will of the workforce that prioritizes development and flexibility, today's business world is agile and dynamic. As a consequence, a manager's role is far more than supervisory -- and Gallup finds that 70% of a team's engagement is influenced by managers. Furthermore, the traditional role of a boss as a command-and-control function does not work for today's workforce. The expectation is for the manager to be more of a coach than a boss.

Unfortunately, most companies' records on manager development are dismal: Only a little more than one in three managers understand how their performance affects their opportunities to move to leadership roles, and just 8% strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve. Developing managers into leaders is more important than ever.

A manager's role is far more than supervisory -- and Gallup finds that 70% of a team's engagement is influenced by managers.

Considering the impact of employee engagement on business outcomes, it would make sense for companies to overinvest in their managers -- specifically in developing their leadership skills -- yet few invest enough. If your future depends on the leaders you build today, as it does in most companies, it's vital to elevate the leadership competencies of your managers at all levels of your organization.

The Leadership Competencies Your Managers Will Need in the Future

The key is selecting for and developing the leadership competencies that have the biggest effect on outcomes. Gallup's study of more than 550 job roles and 360 unique job competencies found that the following seven leadership competencies are usually found in managers who create successful, high-performance teams in thriving organizations.

1. The ability to build relationships: Successful leaders establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and accomplish work.

2. The ability to develop people: They help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.

3. The ability to drive change: They set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work that aligns with the stated vision.

4. The ability to inspire others: They leverage positivity, vision, confidence and recognition to influence performance and motivate workers to meet their challenges.

5. The ability to think critically: They seek information, critically evaluate the information, apply the knowledge gained and solve problems.

6. The ability to communicate clearly: They listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and are open to hearing opinions.

7. The ability to create accountability: They identify the consequences of actions and hold themselves and others responsible for performance.

Managers need these skills to lead their teams now and in the future when they will lead your organization. Two bold moves can meet this need: looking for and recognizing managers' leadership moments and providing them with the key experiences they need to grow.

Define and Recognize Leadership Moments

Recognition is powerful. It engages the person being recognized and sets an example that inspires others. Recognizing leadership moments in your managers also reinforces the value of their leadership competencies.

Start by defining what a leadership moment is -- an act of customer centricity that protects the brand from reputational dangers, perhaps, or an innovative process and systems overhaul that creates a cost advantage. Front-line managers (and employees) demonstrate these leadership moments all the time, and they're strategic, vital illustrations of real leadership.

Help Managers Gain Early Leadership Experiences

Invest in key experiences for managers, such as mentorship or cross-functional projects. Perform key experience reviews for high-potential managers. Identify the kinds of experiences, such as leading product development, working overseas, or handling customer complaints, that are important for a future in leadership. Coach managers to recognize them as leadership experiences and apply what they learn toward their development.

A Leadership Development Strategy for Long-Term Success

As renowned leadership development expert Ram Charan put it in his book Leaders at all Levels, "Though most organizations have training programs for first-line managers, relatively few have any programs in place for managers of managers. Part of the problem is the false assumption that there's very little difference between managing others and managing managers."

This habit of reserving high-potential development for the top layers of a company is a major blind spot for executive leaders, and it threatens the long-term health of the organizations they lead. This is where leaders can make the difference: If you make managers' key experiences and leadership development plan central to your overall strategy, you'll grow your options, opportunities, and your next generation of leaders.

Support engaged teams now and your long-term organizational health:


Vibhas Ratanjee is Senior Practice Expert, Organizational and Leadership Development, at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030