The most recent annual Gallup State of the American Workplace found that only a third of workers feel that they:
- Get recognition or praise for doing good work.
- Have someone at work who champions their development.
- Have someone at work who talks to them about their progress.
And only 40 percent say that they have:
- The opportunity to do what they do best each day.
- A supervisor, or someone else at work, who cares about them.
- Opportunities to learn and grow.
What do all of these critical factors in employee engagement have in common?
Direct Supervisors Hold the Key to Workplace Performance
The importance of supervisors to any workplace cannot be overstated—especially at smaller companies, where management is more intimate and direct than in large corporations.
A toxic manager can poison a whole company, while a sympathetic, fair manager helps make everything flow smoothly. Employees stay because they feel they are treated like people, rather than like cogs in a machine. And, most importantly, they stay because feel they can grow with the job.
So what makes a great manager?
Forbes columnist Maren Hogan says the essential quality of a great manager is: “an infectious love for the organization and the ability to make decisions with empathy and knowledge.”
She says the seven traits that make good managers are that they:
- Love the company culture
- Are positively contagious
- Can sustain focus
- Lead with head and heart
- Express honesty
- Assume accountability
- Make decisions effectively
Meanwhile, Marcus Buckingham in the Harvard Business Review says his research shows that great managers are “romantics.” They believe in the potential of even their quirkiest employees and will devise creative and effective ways to unleash those talents.
“Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess,” he says. “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 coordinated plan of attack.”
Craig Cincotta in Entrepreneur Magazine says that great managers “care about the future as much as they care about the present for both the business and the individual.”
The No. 1 advantage great managers bring to a company is that they develop great talent, Cincotta says. “They are able to get the right people in the right roles at the right time. They do this through the encouragement of mentorship opportunities and the implementation of a proactive plan for addressing career development interests, needs and desires,” he says.
His list of the seven attributes of great managers is that they:
- Have great attitudes
- Are transparent
- Demonstrate maturity
- Remain flexible
- Reinforce accountability
- Get their hands dirty
- Develop great talent
Great Managers Aren’t in It for Themselves
These lists of what makes a good manager are clear and compelling, but the buck ultimately stops with the manager’s manager, who must make sure that these are the attributes their direct reports actually possess and implement.
To ensure this, many companies now perform 360-degree evaluations and skip-level interviews to get private feedback from employees so that a firm can weed out toxic or ineffectual middle managers.
When hiring and supervising middle managers, experts say to be wary of people who are focused on themselves rather than their team. Great managers are laser-focused on their people, and get to know them—talking to them, joking with them, and knowing when they are worried or anxious. They know what Jane is good at and what John isn’t, and are willing to switch things around so that both Jane and John are doing what they do best and are happy doing it. They will champion their team and the individuals on it.