Leadership That Excels

After the social upheavals of 2020 and the pandemic, nowhere has a manager’s role been so valued than in the workplace. For companies navigating the chaos of COVID-19 and efforts for improving equality at work, managers have been handed even more responsibility than before. It was against those backdrops that Gallup met this past summer with finalists of the 2019 Manager of the Year awards to gather their input on what caused them to stand out.

A recent Gallup survey had found that only 40% of employees in the U.S. felt their company’s mission made them feel their job was important. In response, a finalist said that employees are more inclined to affect change when they all understand why. Connecting the company’s purpose to both individual and team action is paramount.

In response to a Gallup finding that only a third of employees felt their opinion at work appeared to count, a finalist said managers could inspire innovation from team members by getting them all to speak out as well as shining a light on the opinion of others and making them count.

Developing a culture of safety was described by a finalist as a way of encouraging candor. It was suggested that great managers ask questions that help lower defenses.

Several finalists agreed that good communication is critical and said they connect with team members daily or weekly. Gallup’s study found that 20% of employees said they had but one conversation with their manager in the past six months. A remedy to this may be targeted training for managers that enables them to make such conversations more comfortable and effective.

A finalist suggested that the key to high worker performance is discovering their inner motivation and reframing projects in a distinctively exciting way for each employee. This is where human connection is necessary for getting to really know employees deeply.

Managers who recognize good work should be a given, but only 30% of U.S. workers told Gallup they received any work-related praise in the past seven days. Identifying and celebrating even small successes is important.

The last question Gallup asked the finalists was for their top priorities in the coming year. All responded with answers about who on their staff had the potential to be a leader and how to prepare them for that journey. Their responses were the opposite of bad managers who dwell on the past and what can’t be changed and average managers who are only paying attention to the present. The best saw themselves as coaches who envision what future success looks like.

Probably the most important quality of a good manager is caring about their workers as real people. Top managers get to know each employee and adapt to each one’s needs. Employees who know their managers care about them are much more engaged at work.

This quote by Jim Goodnight, software developer and CEO of SAS Institute, summarizes it all, “Treat employees like they will make a difference…and they will.