Most of Your Managers Are Only Doing 50% of Their Jobs

Professional |  7 Minutes Read

Most managers are hired or promoted to fulfill two primary functions:

  1. Deliver outcomes

  2. Develop their staff towards higher performance

Yet if the latest research from Gallup is any indication, only about 1 in 5 employees (21%) agree that their direct supervisors manage them in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

To add to that troubling statistic, only 26% of employees agree that the feedback they receive from their bosses helps them do their work better and according to research from Leadership IQ, less than 50% of all employees know whether or not they’re doing a good job.

This lack of clarity has obvious consequences: if employees don't feel that they're being developed professionally, they're more likely to jump ship the moment a better opportunity presents itself.

This is particularly true for millennials, who will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. In fact, a recent study by Qualtrics and Accel reports that 74% of millennials who like their jobs are planning to leave within the next three years -- as long as they find a better opportunity somewhere else.

The good news?

This is a solvable problem.

In fact, the same Qualtrics study found that 89% of millennials say that they would stay with the same company for 10 years or more if only two requirements were met:

  1. opportunities for upward career advancement, and

  2. a regular increase in compensation.

This statistic, by the way, goes against the misconception that millennials are habitual job-hoppers who are likely to leave no matter what employers do. It turns out that the key to retaining your most talented staff is to invest in their career development.

Download an infographic on the cost of disengagement and the vital role that managers play.

So Why Aren't More Managers Developing Their Staff?

It’s very likely that they may not know how.

Gallup’s research shows that only about one in five (18%) of those currently in management roles show a high talent for managing others, while another two in ten show a basic talent for it.

This means that the rest of us may need a few more practical handles to effectively manage a team.

In what specific areas, you may ask?

According to Gallup's research, great managers are intuitively gifted at these dimensions:

  1. Positioning the right people in the right roles

  2. Creating a culture of clear accountability

  3. Engaging employees with a compelling vision

  4. Motivating every employee individually [hint: their motivations are tied to their strengths]

  5. Coaching and developing their people by focusing on their strengths

  6. Making decisions based on productivity, not politics

  7. Building trust and dialogue with their people about both work and life outside of work

The key thing to note here is that these are not a set of character traits every good manager should emulate. Rather, they are outcomes -- and the way each manager achieves these outcomes will be dependent on their strengths.

Leading through Strengths

Take, for example, Mervyn Davies, the former Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank. Known as one of the world's most influential businesspeople, Davies defies the stereotype of a typical banker. In fact, British newspaper The Guardian calls him "that rare breed: a banker [whom] people like."

An early adopter of the Strengths-based leadership approach, Davies knew that the key to leading his organization to success was to capitalize on strengths -- both his and those of his team.

Since the bank derived 90% of its revenue from emerging international markets, Davies felt that he had to ensure his leadership team was just as diverse as the customers it served. To that end, he began his tenure by building an extraordinarily diverse leadership team with vastly different backgrounds and personalities. Acutely aware of his own strengths and limitations, he wanted to surround himself with people who could do specific things much better than he ever could.

Then, with his Relator theme, he sought ways to build greater trust and dialogue between himself and his management team. He did so by sending regular correspondence to his top 20, 50, and 150 leaders detailing his decision-making processes. In an era where bankers were overly cautious about what they said, Davies made it a point to over-communicate whenever possible -- creating accountability and helping his leadership team understand his often-controversial decisions.

Davies often shared about far more than just work matters. When his wife of 29 years wrestled with breast cancer, Davies sent an honest and openly vulnerable e-mail to 400 of his top executives detailing what was going on, how he felt, and how it would change his schedule in the months following. But this wasn't just because it was about his personal life. Throughout the bank, Davies was widely known for helping everyone at Standard Chartered put their family first. One colleague even described how amazed he was that Davies took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to be there for him during a personal crisis.

As a result of his extraordinary openness, Standard Chartered's employees could see how much Davies loved the bank, and knew his heart was in the right place. It created a culture in which employees took ownership of their work instead of passing along blame. It also led to an unprecedented level of trust in their CEO, especially as Davies often bucked conventional wisdom in his decision-making.

With his Learner and Futuristic strengths, Davies also worked to develop his core team by spending an extensive amount of time analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and identifying how they might fit on different teams. In addition, he was very upfront about his own personality, even placing a coffee mug with his top five strengths (AchieverFuturisticPositivityRelator, and Learner) on his desk at work.

Of course, this is a story of just one man.

If, instead of Relator, you have Context in your dominant themes, you might lead very differently. Perhaps you would build trust and dialogue with your people through understanding their backgrounds and their histories -- what led up to them accepting the job at your firm. Or perhaps you would develop them by getting to know the past victories and lessons they've been through, then building on that foundation.

On the other hand, if you have Maximizer in your Top 5, you might be gifted at identifying what your team members are good at, and then positioning them in the right roles so that they can do what they do best every day. Or perhaps you make it a point to highlight the glimpses of excellence you see in your staff, then polishing those gems until they shine brilliantly. 

So How Do We Develop Our Managers?

Simply put: Your strengths determine the "how" to the "what" of good leadership. 

This means that a core element that every good leadership development plan must include is helping leaders identify their strengths and how they currently apply them in their roles.

Rather than simply citing a list of characteristics all good leaders embody, we must help emerging leaders understand who they are -- and how they uniquely lead and develop their teams.

A Final Note

Oftentimes, when we're asked to describe what we're good at, we can only describe it in generic terms: for example, that we're very creative or that we enjoy thinking deeply. I find StrengthsFinder especially useful for this because it helps to give a lot more nuance to what we're innately gifted at, not only putting words to our strengths but also unraveling the underlying motivations and needs of those strengths. With this understanding, we're able to pinpoint what's missing from our working experience that would help make us more effective, then adjust accordingly to boost performance.

In the same way, managing others requires us to be able to pinpoint our team members' innate strengths, motivations, and needs so as to effectively develop people. While understanding your own strengths is important, being an effective manager requires you to understand those of your team members

What do you think?

What's been your experience with other leadership approaches? Does a strengths-based approach seem viable for your context? Drop us a comment with your thoughts!


Meiling is a Gallup-Certified StrengthsFinder® Coach. She regularly writes about the 34 Clifton StrengthsFinder® themes and how to use the StrengthsFinder® tool to strengthen vital relationships, forge key partnerships at work, improve productivity, and boost personal and professional fulfillment.