Optimize Your Management Team

Extensive research reveals startling conditions in typical organizational settings. Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report, last updated in 2017, confirms a strong correlation between company prosperity and middle management abilities.

Through the Manager Report and numerous surveys, Gallup has exposed lingering trends in employee disengagement, distrust and dissatisfaction, which directly hit the bottom line. Managers are 70% responsible for employees’ attitudes about their jobs, affecting their attendance, quality of work, willingness, loyalty and customer feedback. Gallup’s No Recovery Report found that the American GDP per capita has slowed its growth from 3% to 0.5% in the last 50 years. The growth in personal productivity has essentially stopped, even with the advent of improving technology.

This puts the onus on top leadership to make sure their management structure is as effective as possible, a condition that statistics say is rare. Surveys indicate only 10% of people have a high talent to manage effectively. Unfortunately, they also show that about 82% of the management segment is chosen from outside this small window.

When top leaders prioritize the quality of their management team, their organizations thrive. When they don’t, they struggle, sometimes marginally, sometimes catastrophically. Leaders enjoy the highest levels of success when they put the right people in the right roles, and train them to develop and engage their employees. Each of these steps require a thoughtful approach with diligent upkeep.

Find the Best Management Candidates

Leadership mindsets have changed over the last few decades. In the 2018 article, Want to Improve Productivity? Hire Better Managers, Gallup managing partner Vipula Gandhi describes the traditional leadership philosophy of control and privilege. Experience shows that this has always been detrimental to organizational life. However, employees no longer accept controlling environments or stern practices. Leaders with controlling methods suffer from high employee disengagement, inefficiencies and turnover. This is not a recipe for success.

Another frequent practice is placing people into leadership roles based on their seniority or past accomplishments, with a high emphasis on their technical skills. Unfortunately, effective leading is much more dependent on people skills. Employees respond much more favorably to managers who know how to relate with them than those who have technical savvy. Technical skills can be honed to lead technically, but people desire managers who can lead personally. People skills are heavily influenced by personality, which is much harder to adapt. Many technically capable managers have poor people skills, and thus have poor followings with the associated fallout. 

In order for leaders to run the most effective organizations they need the most effective management team, which calls for putting the right people in management roles. The right candidates have the strongest people skills, so it is important to stress this attribute in the recruiting and placement process. Technical skills are necessary, but weighing them too heavily is a critical mistake.

Unlike technical skills, people skills are more difficult to assess on paper. This is why getting to know candidates personally is critical. Interviews are valuable to grasp a candidate’s soft skillset. Here are some areas to explore with a candidate, whether they are internal or from outside the organization:

  • What is their philosophy of leadership?
  • How does their character convey positivity and motivation?
  • How do they exhibit pride, humility, respect, accountability?
  • What kind of wisdom, discernment and insight do they have?
  • Are they personally interested in people, and enjoy engaging, supporting and encouraging them?
  • How do they value their staff?
  • Do they care about employees as people or just physical resources?
  • What kind of collaborative spirit do they have?
  • Do they seem interested in benefitting themselves or others?
  • What is their definition of fairness?
  • Will they fit into the culture?

Many of these answers can be sensed through conversations or what-if scenarios by asking candidates to role play specific situations. Make sure their people skills are strong enough before offering them a management position.

Training Your Managers

You want your employees to enjoy their jobs and that means enjoying their managers. To enhance your organization, you need your people to be engaged and willing to follow their supervisors. Only the managers with high people skills can ensure this, and only the managers who continuously develop these attributes become highly skilled.

Even good people-oriented managers have room to grow and improve. The most successful leaders make sure their managers are on a path of growth by providing opportunities to train and learn. Most organizations offer technical training, and this is important. However, too many leaders underappreciate the need for their managers to train in people skills. Leaders who emphasis a people-first culture raise managers who excel in these areas.

You may find resources within your staff that have the right experience to conduct training for your managers. If not, find external resources to conduct training in your facility or one nearby. Many executive coaches or teachers have the ability to offer training in soft skills. Here are some areas where training is beneficial:

  • Listening and feedback
  • Delegating
  • Negotiating
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration and multi-discipline interaction
  • Transparency
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Interviewing for job openings or promotions
  • Approachability and conversation
  • Firmness with fairness
  • Conflict management
  • Stress management
  • Running a meeting
  • Accountability
  • Coaching and mentoring

A trained manager is able to pass on that training to their people. This is why coaching and mentoring skills are so vital for a manager to enhance the effectiveness of their staff. The most successful organizations engage managers capable of raising future managers.

In addition to people skills, being trained in company policies and procedures plays a vital role for managers to relate well with their people. Here are some areas of specific training that allow managers to assist their people on a personal level:

  • HR policies / internal staff-related policies
  • Employee development and promotion policies
  • Employee career planning and training policies
  • Performance review and assessment procedures
  • Corporate vision and mission philosophies

Well-rounded managers are best able to address the needs of their people and maintain their engagement, motivation and effectiveness. Some types of training may need to be offered as a regular refresher. A priority on training creates a culture of excellence.

Keep Your Managers Engaged

Another important aspect of optimizing your management team is to keep them highly engaged. Gandhi sites a significant Gallup finding in that 85% of employees are not engaged at their jobs. This translates into dire disabilities for leaders. If, as indicated earlier, 70% of employee attitudes are impacted by their managers, then it’s clear that manager engagement is critical.

Few leaders recognize this. Of those who do, many struggle with thinking of ways to engage their managers. If you understand what kinds of things engage employees, the same applies for managers. Each want to be a part of something great. They want purpose, enjoyable relationships, the ability to succeed and recognition for their achievements. The degree may be different for managers and their employees, but similar nonetheless.

Your managers desire opportunity for growth, both personally and corporately. Provide a path to achieve it: Lay out plans to groom managers for advancement. This includes challenging projects that call for higher levels of responsibility, technical skills and people skills. Experience overcoming challenges empowers and qualifies managers for more. Cross-training is another way to enhance the skills of managers, and many experience a greater appreciation for their company.

Managers raise their engagement by being informed and included in leadership matters. Let them in on corporate plans and visions, and invite participation in activities that are normally above their level. This helps managers feel valued and appreciated. They can bring additional perspectives to leadership discussions, with insight from the working end of the operation. Opportunities to create and deliver presentations to higher-level leadership and other departments also increases motivation and gives managers a sense that they have much at stake in their careers.

Make manager engagement a priority by including it in performance evaluations. Most effective are 360 evaluations that incorporate anonymous feedback from all levels including supervisors, colleagues, employees and customers. See how people really view the manager’s engagement.

Leaders who optimize their management team find sustainable success and satisfaction in ways that outshine all other strategies. The employees with the best managers have the best experiences and the best futures.

Personality Impacts Leadership

Despite all of the resources available to leaders today¾books, articles, seminars, coaching and training programs¾employees remain dissatisfied with leadership, their jobs and the future. After decades of attention paid to building better leaders, overall workforce distaste and distrust show little improvement. The managerial mindset is also stagnant.

Only 28% of executives think their leaders’ decisions are generally good, reveals a 2009 McKinsey & Company Global Survey. Trends in trust, loyalty and employee satisfaction would point upward if the solution was as simple as improving leadership techniques or corporate practices.

Traditional approaches to leadership development merely scratch the surface. The real issues occur at foundational levels and are remedied only when directly addressed. Methods and practices are important, but companies benefit only when they delve into leadership personality.

The Complexities of Personality

Researchers have exposed a profound truth: While stock prices, market share and material assets are important, softer factors determine true organizational strength. Employee engagement, job satisfaction and creativity play greater roles in performance, effectiveness and profitability.

Leadership personality and style are the most crucial factors in organizational strength, asserts psychologist and leadership consultant Ron Warren, PhD, in Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership (McGraw-Hill Education, 2017). Human personality traits have remained constant throughout history, so any progress in leadership training depends on addressing them.

The spectrum of human personality is extremely complex, with experts debating its intricacies and nuances. Dr. Warren cites five behavioral traits that determine whether leaders will be beneficial or detrimental to their organizations. Each includes a pair of opposing behaviors:

  • Openness to other ideas / cautious or distrusting of other ideas
  • Conscientious about their impact / careless about their impact
  • Extroverted, people-oriented / introverted, socially uncomfortable
  • Agreeable, cooperative / argumentative, confrontational
  • Confident, at peace / neurotic, nervous

Every leader is an amalgam of these behaviors, which are demonstrated verbally and nonverbally. Each leader is a unique “personality package,” exhibiting these behaviors along a spectrum.

Dr. Warren harnesses the power of these behaviors to identify four key personality dimensions that affect organizational success:

  • Social intelligence and teamwork (a positive trait)
  • Deference (negative)
  • Dominance (negative)
  • Grit/task mastery (positive)

Social-Intelligence Smarts

Socially intelligent leaders are known for their interpersonal skills, relational aptitude and positivity. These personality traits are most beneficial to leading people effectively. Employees are drawn to leaders who show them they’re valued. Alternatively, leaders who lack these traits are detrimental to their organizations’ well-being.

Sociability comes easily to socially intelligent, people-oriented leaders. Relationships are important to them, and interactions allow them to express care, kindness and support. They regard people as more than resources; they’re coworkers, even family.

Socially intelligent leaders treasure genuine personal connections. Communication skills are more critical to organizational effectiveness than IQ or past accomplishments, emphasizes Alex “Sandy” Pentland, PhD, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, in “The New Science of Building Teams” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012). Unfortunately, most leaders aren’t recruited or promoted for their communication skills.

Socially intelligent leaders are also helpful, and they consider caring for people to be a duty. They’re highly sensitive and focus on others, putting staff interests before their own. They aim to meet people’s needs in the spirit of unity and consensus.

Leaders who are socially intelligent are open to feedback. They’re humble and flexible enough to value others’ views. This inclusive, interactive approach to leadership draws people to them with engagement. Employees who work for open-minded leaders feel valued, which boosts morale and productivity.

The socially intelligent personality is clearly beneficial to organizations. Leaders who struggle with social intelligence have strained careers, but they can learn to shift their mindset toward the relational end of the scale. Outcomes are greatly enhanced when leaders take the time to engage people, show interest in them and develop mutual understanding. People respond favorably when they trust a leader’s motives and authenticity. Social intelligence cannot be faked; people easily see through such efforts. The consequences for faking it can be brutal.

The Deference Dilemma

Deference in leadership presents as complacency or a lack of assertiveness. Leaders who defer to others seek to avoid confrontation and approach their role with passivity. Overly humble or timid, they struggle with an inner turmoil that creates problems for their organizations. Deference can be attributed to ongoing challenges, a sense of futility or disdain for parts of the job.

These leaders ultimately become needy. They seek affirmation, try to fit in and crave acceptance. They often compromise to keep the peace and work overtime to avoid rocking the boat.

Leaders who defer yearn for safety and hope to avoid intimidating situations. They shy away from taking a stand, are better followers than leaders, and respond reactively rather than proactively. Work is severely compromised in a setting that appears peaceful, but which actually lacks direction, determination and vision. Staffers endure significant stress as they question their purpose and future.

Deference increases leaders’ internal tension, anxiety and self-doubt. As problems mount, they take on a life of their own, overshadowing day-to-day activities. A vicious cycle develops: Problems diminish leaders’ confidence, making their next responses less effective and causing new problems to be increasingly severe.

Self-assessment is ineffective in this situation. Without professional assistance, leaders cannot evaluate their issues, make necessary adjustments, or overcome their biases and blind spots. They must work with a trusted colleague, mentor or experienced executive coach to overcome their deferential tendencies.

Leaders can learn that a more definitive style mitigates many troubles. They can become more effective by adopting a more independent, confident mindset, thereby reducing anxiety and avoidance.

Dominance Difficulties

Of the four key personality dimensions, dominance has the greatest potential to impede organizational effectiveness. Self-centered by nature, dominant leaders need to control everyone and everything around them. While their passion, decisiveness and drive have occasional benefits, their inflexibility and overbearing nature are extremely harmful.

When passion becomes all-out competitiveness, a win-at-all-cost philosophy spreads. Winning over circumstances is one thing; winning over challengers or rivals is another. Leaders bent on defeating those who stand in their way can debilitate—or even destroy—a company. Emotionality leads to poor judgment, irrational decisions and potentially devastating outcomes.

Dominant leaders are intrinsically hostile, resentful and prone to feeling persecuted. Employees won’t tolerate poor treatment, nor should they. A rise in turnover may signal that a dominant leader is on the loose.

Dominant personalities are also rigid, stubborn and always want to be right. Once their minds are made up, they generally won’t budge. When challenged, they argue and try to shut people down. People find them to be insufferable and won’t put up with them for long. These leaders make business matters personal, exhibiting an opinionated, pushy or authoritarian style.

Dominance is the fastest way to defeat your staff and drive them away. Behavior must be addressed before consequences become irreparable. Training and coaching can help maintain leadership drive and zeal, while keeping ego-driven excesses in check.

Anger management training may be another option. Counseling aimed at increasing flexibility, agreeableness and accountability has benefited many dominant leaders. Dominance is certainly a challenging behavior, but leaders have more control over it than they think. Valued colleagues or a professional coach can help with ongoing feedback and reformative exercises.

Dominant leaders can learn to let their people breathe, function, share ideas and talk openly. With guidance, they can depersonalize issues and refrain from feeling attacked. Once they value unity as a vehicle for success, they’ll be motivated to monitor the self-sabotaging behaviors that inhibit it.

True Grit

Leaders with grit—or “task mastery,” as Dr. Warren calls it—focus on execution and achievement, promoting and upholding high standards. They have a strong drive to succeed, are group-focused and pride themselves on being strongly motivational.

Personal initiative, ambition and a desire to make a difference characterize these leaders, who love to solve problems and set worthy team goals. Their people are drawn to their strength, determination and confidence.

Leaders with grit have the greatest success in engaging people (as long as they avoid setting unrealistic expectations). They’re extremely conscientious and disciplined, keenly aware of what’s best, what’s right and why. These organized and detail-oriented leaders understand the consequences of their actions and strive to provide the best outcomes for their people and organizations.

Curiosity motivates them to enjoy learning, thinking and creating, so it’s no surprise they’re born innovators who attract like-minded people. They can, however, get carried away with excitement and lose track of their leadership responsibilities. Surrounding themselves with administrative thinkers can help them avoid this trap.

Those who lack grit can work with colleagues, mentors or professional coaches to increase initiative, focus on achievement, work on planning and goal-setting, and create a vision worth pursuing. As these new skills become habits, very little prompting will be necessary. Their newfound desire for achievement will be contagious.