ATD Blog

So You Think You’re a Good Manager? Think Again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Most leaders believe they’re good at managing people. During my experience teaching thousands of leaders to effectively manage people, a majority of leaders still express a desire to improve their management skills, but very few acknowledged a need to improve their skills.

This would not be a problem if every worker in the world was engaged in their work—involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. But according to recent Gallup research, the level of employee engagement in the United States for 2015 was 32 percent, which is essentially unchanged from 2014 levels of 31.5 percent. That means that 68 percent of workers in organizations in the United States are disengaged. If some of these disengaged employees work for you, it’s highly unlikely you’re getting their best performance. That’s important for you to think about. After all, it’s your job as a manager to help your employees be successful.

The Problem

Why do so many managers fail to realize that they need to improve their performance? There are at least two reasons:

  1. Most managers are promoted to leadership roles because of the success they’ve had in their professional careers. These leaders are typically high performers in their fields, but they have not learned skills to get the best performance from people.
  2. No one has held these managers accountable for their “people-leading” responsibilities. We tend to do what our managers ask us to do. It’s probably not the case that their managers don’t care about employee engagement and productivity; it’s more likely they assume it’s not an issue.

If you’re reading this post and believe there might be a gap between how you think you’re doing in your role as a manager and the actual performance you’re getting from your staff, don’t despair. You can learn the skills used by effective leaders to drive employee engagement and performance.

The Solution

Here are five steps to increasing your effectiveness.


Step #1: Recognize your impact. It’s important for you as a manager to recognize that your behavior has a significant impact on your employees’ performance. In the workplace, leading people means driving performance. Effective leadership is active. It encompasses all of the behaviors used to let employees know they are valued, respected, and supported.

Step #2: Clarify expectations. Effective leaders identify the results they want and behave intentionally to achieve them. Employees want to know how they can be successful. Initiate regular discussions to provide guidance and allow employees to ask questions and make suggestions about the best way to meet the expectations. Involvement encourages commitment.

Step #3: Provide feedback. Provide employees with specific and timely feedback in a way that they will hear it and act on it. Let them know when they are doing something well. What gets recognized gets repeated. Also, instead of pointing out when as mistake is made, let employees know that they are doing something “almost right” and ask them to suggest the improvement.

Step #4: Coach employees when needed. Chances are you were selected for the leadership role because of your expertise. Share this expertise with your employees. Listen to their concerns, and be empathetic when they share concerns. Provide employees with what they need to perform at their best, not what you think employees should need.


Step #5: Identify your leadership strengths and developmental opportunities. Increased self-awareness is the foundation of leadership development. One way to objectively assess your effectiveness as a manager is to complete a 360-degree feedback assessment. This type of assessment, which is a core component of most Fortune 500 leadership development programs, provides performance feedback from a selection of your stakeholders, such as your manager, employees, peers, and customers. When administered in accordance with industry best practices and conducted by a trained professional, the feedback is confidential and focused on your development.

Next, review the assessment results with an individual who is trained to help you effectively debrief the feedback and both create and commit to an action plan to improve areas identified as opportunities. The feedback you receive may surprise you. We often don’t know how we are perceived by others. The benefit of the process is that you have the opportunity to increase your awareness of your impact as a leader. Once you know the impact you’re having you have the opportunity to make changes and behave intentionally to get the results you want.

If you don’t have access to a 360-degree feedback assessment in your organization, you can collect some of the same data by simply asking your stakeholders for feedback. Ask them to identify what you are doing well and should continue doing and also identify one or two areas that if changed would significantly increase your success. Your stakeholders can also give you suggestions for how to make these changes.

The Result

If you are like many of the managers I’ve worked with, you’ll find that when you’ve taken these steps, your job becomes easier. You’ll no longer avoid addressing employee behaviors and performance for fear that it will result in a confrontation. You’ll find you are able to interact effectively with individuals with differing personalities and priorities. You’ll be able to create a workplace culture where people feel respected, valued, and encouraged to be their best.

Successful leaders must commit to continuous development. Just as other professions require continuing education, leaders benefit significantly from continually “sharpening the saw.” The commitment should start with recognition of the impact they have on the people they manage and a willingness to look in the mirror and objectively assess the leader looking back. If you do these things, your employees will thank you by achieving and exceeding your expectations.

About the Author

Hunter Haines has been a friend of ATD for many years. She is a past president of ATD Maryland, holds the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential, and often volunteers with ATD to work on the CPLP assessment process.

Like most talent development professionals, Hunter wears many hats. She is an organization development and inclusion consultant at the University of Maryland Medical System and the founder and president of People Leading People, a leadership coaching and consulting company. In these roles, Hunter specializes in developing leaders to engage employees and drive business results. When she’s not facilitating a leadership development workshop, Hunter can be found working with teams and coaching leaders at all levels. She is also a mentor coach at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.

Hunter believes that all employees can be fulfilled in their work roles and that leaders have a responsibility to help make that happen. This drives her desire to help leaders be as effective and accountable as possible.

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