As the backbone of your business, middle managers are front and center in driving employee engagement and fostering learning. There’s a reason middle managers have such a direct impact here — when a manager is engaged, employees are engaged. In fact, managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.
And engaged employees invest in learning and progressing within your company, positively affecting your business’s bottom line. Companies with engaged employees outperform competitors by 147% in earnings per share.
But truly great frontline managers are hard to come by. Just one in 10 people have the managerial talent to motivate employees toward excellence and improve a company’s performance. So, what exactly makes for a great manager?
What Makes A Great Manager?
Great managers push their teams to learn and grow, while supporting them along the way. This strength doesn’t come naturally to most. Many leaders view management as command-and-control, which does little to foster a learning environment.
Effective learning stems from the 70:20:10 model: 70% of time spent in day-to-day challenges, 20% spent interacting with others, and 10% spent on traditional education.
Managers have a direct impact on that 20%. And great managers will help employees challenge their day-to-day, learn, and grow.
Those great managers, generally, possess the skills to:
- Coach, rather than project manage.
- Build open, honest relationships.
- Challenge the routine.
Below are 10 great managerial traits to look out for, all of which bubble up to these three core abilities.
Coach, Rather Than Project Manage
1. They Listen
Good managers offer guidance only after they understand the problem at hand and the employee’s needs. Immediately jumping into problem solving can feel intuitive when someone asks for help, but managers that listen first will be better equipped to help their team.
Through active listening and asking powerful questions, managers push employees to reach a solution on their own — with some guidance. This fosters learning and boosts employee confidence, plain and simple.
2. They Focus on Employee Growth
Employees grow in their career when they have access to two things:
- On the job challenges that elevate their day-to-day responsibilities.
- An understanding of their career path.
On the job challenges should make up 70% of an employee’s time in order for them to learn and grow. Great managers understand this, and provide employees with new projects and responsibilities that stretch their skills and relate to their interests.
Great managers also coach employees through their career path. This doesn’t mean just laying out a standard plan and assumed next step for promotion. Instead, great managers learn each employee’s competencies and skill gaps. Only then can managers and employees flesh out appropriate areas and opportunities for growth.
3. They’re Flexible
Command-and-control management is a common leadership style that focuses on rules, policies, and task management. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, with the same expectations and communication styles applied to every team member. It is, as Forbes put it, “for Dinosaurs.”
Great managers understand that every individual has different needs, communication styles and motivations. They learn what makes each person tick, and can adapt their management style accordingly.
Build Open Relationships
4. They Share Their Learnings
Typically, managers have more involvement in leadership decisions than their teams do. The best managers share their learnings with their teams, like the challenges leadership is trying to solve for and how decisions are made.
This simple act builds rapport across the team. It also makes employees feel involved in the company’s mission, which in turn improves engagement and retention. 71% of Millennials who understand their company’s mission plan to stay for at least one year.
5. They’re Transparent
Strong managers always explain the ‘why’: why the budget changed, why this project kicked off, why a teammate was promoted.
Explaining the context behind actions helps employees feel connected to each other, their manager and the business’s mission. Transparency should happen for both positive and difficult conversations.
6. They Don’t Shirk the Hard Conversations
To build trust with their teams, managers need to be willing to have the tough conversations, when necessary. Passive aggressiveness or avoidance has no place in a managerial role.
Giving honest feedback also ties directly to employee engagement. Leaders that fell in the bottom 10% in their ability to give feedback saw lower engagement scores from their teams. Leaders in the top 10% in their feedback ability saw higher engagement.
Challenge The Routine
7. They Hold Their Teams and Themselves Accountable
Employees thrive when they’re invested in something alongside their team. Managers can further unite and motivate their teams by:
- Praising the wins, giving credit where credit is due.
- Holding employees accountable for the success of their projects, not just the execution.
- When needed, acting as a shield for their employees and taking responsibility for team failures.
When team members feel they’re equally responsible for the team’s success as the manager is, they’ll be more motivated to invest the time and effort it will take to succeed.
8. They Connect to the Business Goals
Great managers tie each project back to company objectives. Employees should understand which goals their projects impact. When goals are achieved, employees should understand how their specific role contributed to its overall performance.
Employees are more motivated to tackle challenging projects when they understand how their work impacts the business’s objectives.
9. They Set Clear Expectations
The best managers understand that defining expectations is just as important as setting them. Strong managers take the time to explain why their expectations are what they are and explain what, exactly, they expect from employees.
Importantly, managers then provide the support systems necessary to help employees exceed those expectations.
10. Set Uncomfortable Goals
While setting unrealistic goals can be demotivating, setting stretch goals can be a good thing.
This is especially true if managers are transparent in why they need to set tough goals, and patient in explaining how hitting these goals will impact the business. Again, the best managers are available for guidance as employees work to hit those goals.