What sets a great manager apart from an average manager? Hundreds of books and articles have been written about the subject, but little has been said about what happens in the thousands of daily interactions and decisions that enable managers to get the best out of their people and win their loyalty. What do great managers actually do that sets them apart from the rest?
While there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that truly great managers have in common: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a beautifully functioning team.
Learn to turn unconventional talents into gold
A critical part of a manager’s job is to be aware of the very different skills each role requires. It involves knowing how to put people into roles that allow them to shine – while avoiding putting clashing personalities together. At the same time, there needs to be a comfortable enough workplace ambiance so that everyone can work as a team.
To achieve this balance, a great manager might have to “tweak” a given role to accommodate an unusual personality in order to benefit from that person’s exceptional and desirable skill set. The ability to keep tweaking roles to capitalize on the uniqueness of each person is the very essence of great management.
Be a positive trigger for employee performance
A good manager understands that an employee’s strengths aren’t always operating at maximum thrust. If a positive trigger is squeezed, a person might push himself harder and persevere in the face of resistance. But squeeze a negative one, and the person may well shut down. This is a tricky business, because negative triggers come in many forms: They may involve fatigue, a sense of being ignored, or a feeling of being micromanaged.
The average manager knows that the most powerful positive trigger by far is recognition, not money. But great managers realize that each employee plays to a slightly different audience. To excel as a manager, you must be able to match the employee to the audience he values most. One employee’s audience might be his peers; the best way to praise him would be to stand him up in front of his coworkers and publicly celebrate his achievement. Another’s favorite audience might be you; for him, the most powerful recognition would be a one-on-one conversation where you tell him quietly but sincerely why he is such a valuable member of the team. Still another employee might define himself by his expertise; his most prized form of recognition could be some type of professional or technical award.
Communicate more frequently for higher engagement
Communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or via email – is closely linked to higher engagement. In a 2014 study, Gallup discovered that employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. It turns out that engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face-to-face, phone, or digital) of daily communication with their managers. And employees value communication from their manager not just about work-related roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of the workplace.
The best managers get to know their employees as people first, and accommodate their employees’ uniqueness while also aiming for high performance.
Turn the dreaded performance review into a positive experience
Managers who build on their employees’ strengths will have far more effective results than those who fixate on their weaknesses. In a strengths-based culture, employees learn their roles more quickly, produce more and better work, stay with their company longer, and are more engaged.
Great managers don’t just tell employees what’s expected of them and leave it at that; instead, they frequently talk with employees about their responsibilities and progress. They don’t save those critical conversations for once-a-year performance reviews. And when performance review time does come around, great managers focus on positive characteristics, progress made, achievements, and goals.
The most powerful thing a manager can do for employees is to place them in jobs that allow them to use the best of their natural talents, adding skills and knowledge to develop and apply their strengths.