Here’s What Makes A Great Manager So Great

October 11, 2017

What it takes to become a great people manager might surprise you.

It surprised Google when it embarked on a data-mining project to uncover the top attributes of effective Google managers. After analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards, they uncovered eight habits that were consistent in highly effective Google managers.

Google is a company that has placed high value on technical skills in their employees and managers, but what they learned is there were other attributes that were much more important. Of the eight most important skills, technical skills ranked the lowest.

What was most important? Being a good coach. According to a NY Times interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president of people operations at the time of the study, “What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Here is the complete Google list of eight attributes (via Business Insider):

  • Be a good coach
  • Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  • Express interest in employees’ success and well-being
  • Be productive and results-oriented
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  • Help your employees with career development
  • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  • Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team

When you read the list just now, was there anything that surprised you? Me either. In fact, most of the items on the list are the same skills that have been touted by many other studies over the years.

Gallup conducted thousands of interviews in all types of organizations, at all levels, in almost all industries and in many countries and came up with “The 12 Elements of Great Managing.” Most of the Google attributes are included within the Gallup 12 elements.

Research from McKinsey to decode what really matters the most when it comes to effective leadership found that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed four important behaviors: They were supportive, operated with a strong results orientation, sought out different perspectives, and solved problems effectively. McKinsey found that these four behaviors account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness.

Marcus Buckingham began his research with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted by the Gallup Organization and then spent two years conducting in-depth studies of top performers. He found that the best people managers are even more than good coaches. According to his Harvard Business Review article, “There is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.”

If you’re looking for a secret recipe for becoming a successful people manager, there isn’t one. The Google list of attributes is a good place to start. The most important thing you can do is focus on being a great coach, because leadership needs to be built on a foundation of truly caring about the people with whom you work.

~ Lisa Quast

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