Why and How to Empower Your Managers

The premise of Gallup’s new book, It’s the Manager, is that managers are the key people who make or break an organization’s long-term success. The book is a summary of extensive manager interviews, management literature, and workplace survey data from the past 30 years. It includes some interesting findings on managers, including:

  • Managers report having more stress than their teams do
  • They’re likely to spread that stress throughout their companies
  • Managers account for a whopping 70% of the variance of their team members’ levels of engagement

It’s pretty clear that, given their impact, managers’ wellbeing and effectiveness should be top of mind for every company. But most managers today report that they’re given little preparation; more than half say that they didn’t receive any kind of management training before assuming their roles.

This was true in my case. Like many founders, I became a manager when I started my first company. It didn’t occur to me to do anything special to prepare. I just dove right in and made a lot of mistakes. Eventually (and thankfully) I learned from those mistakes how to do better.

I see a lot of fellow founders today not only going through that same experience themselves, but also looking to put a level of leadership below them in place. Their companies are growing fast, they’re scaling furiously, and they need to empower their people to lead teams so that they can focus elsewhere. Watching them, and thinking about my own experiences, I’ve come to believe that there are a few simple rules to follow to help your managers succeed.

Make sure your managers actually want to be managers

First things first: your managers should want to manage. Qualities that typically make people good managers include empathy, good communication skills, a results orientation, and resilience, among others. And while these skills can be developed in anyone, most people do best at work in roles that align with their natural strengths and (more importantly) interests.

Many, many workplaces advance their people to management when those people are successful in their non-management roles. That’s because moving up the ladder is the conventional path of advancement. But management isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Not every engineer wants to lead a team, and not every sales leader wants to run the department. Let your people shine where they want to shine.

Help managers understand and learn the basics of coaching

The ability to coach is a foundational skill of managing others. A recent study by leadership scholars Julia and Trenton Milner revealed that while many managers think they are successfully coaching their teams, in reality they’re often just telling their employees what to do. In other words, they’re consulting and micromanaging rather than helping their employees come up with solutions to their own challenges.

It turns out this challenge is easy to tackle. The same study found that it only takes about 15 hours of coaching training to achieve substantial improvements in coaching abilities. There are a variety of high-quality free and low-cost options for learning coaching basics through platforms like Udemy, Coursera (e.g. Managing as a Coach) and LinkedIn Learning. For a bit more, managers can participate in certified programs specially designed for them, such as Work Wonders.

Make these (or other) coaching resources available to your managers, set the expectation that they use them, and give them the time to do so. Doing so shows them that you recognize management skills as distinct from other job-related skills, that you value these skills, and that you’re there to support your managers’ success.

Enable managers to focus on people, and give them the tools to do so

We know that managers are under pressure. In many ways the buck stops with them, and so responsibilities can pile up on their shoulders. One way to help your managers reap efficiency gains is to give them technology-based tools that can guide them through people management while also saving them time.

Assessments like DISC and Clifton StrengthsFinder are a great place to start. They’ve proven to be very effective tools for helping people who both lead and work on teams to better understand themselves and their teammates. One of the reasons they’re so effective is that they help team members see what’s important to their peers and how they operate, and to learn how they can adapt to their colleagues’ working styles. (You can read more of my thoughts about how DISC can help teams have better work experiences here. We’ve built our own DISC assessment right into the RallyBright Teams platform)

Managers who understand how their people work – their motivations and their personality and behavioral styles – will be better at keeping those employees productive, motivated, and engaged. And teams of productive, motivated and engaged employees drive the success of every organization.

At the end of the day, managers play the important role of helping to maximize human potential. This will be only more true in the coming years, as more millennials join the ranks of managers, bringing with them that generation’s focus on employee well-being and development Invest in your managers and that time and attention will ripple rewards throughout your organization.

Are you in the role of standing up new managers at your company as it grows? I’d love to help you. Drop me a line at john@rallybright.com. Learn more about my platform for building great teams over at RallyBright.