3 Overlooked Skills Managers Need Right Now

3 Overlooked Skills Managers Need Right Now 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

For years, the Gallup Organization has told us that managers are the lynchpin in employee engagement. 

Based on their data, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement

That is an astonishing number. And it’s a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it suggests that if you are a manager, you can profoundly impact your team’s performance and retention by investing in your own skill development. 

As a manager, that’s good news, provided you have access to good training and can dedicate the time to improve your skills.

But then there’s the other side of the sword. Because Gallup has done such an effective job of marketing this fact about managers, organizations are quick to blame managers for employee disengagement and turnover. 

This blame can be pretty alienating and disheartening for the manager, particularly those who really care about their people and are trying to do a good job. 

We need to stop blaming “Bad Managers” 

The problem with dumping blame on the manager is that it leads to a “bad manager” narrative. I used to fall into this trap, blaming everything on these “bad managers.” 

But, what I’ve come to realize is that most of the “bad managers” aren’t bad people. They are, in fact, good people. They are very often people who want to do a good job, but they were never given the tools, training, or support to learn how to be effective in their management roles. 

Blaming “bad managers” masks the real problem just mentioned above: that the managers aren’t being given the tools and training they need to be effective.  

This has always been an issue since the beginning of management. For some reason, we have historically assumed that if you have been managed at some point in the past, then you have the knowledge and know-how to manage effectively. 

Imagine if we treated driving a car the same way. “Son, you’ve been watching me drive for 15 years. Surely, you know how to do it by now. Here are the keys. Have fun out there.” 

Using this logic, I should also be a lot better at basketball than I am given the amount of basketball I’ve watched. But I digress. 

Treating driving this way would have disastrous consequences. And yet, that’s how managers are often handed the “keys” to their teams. 

Instead of blaming bad managers, we need to invest in creating good ones.

Now, more than perhaps ever before, managers need support and training to help them respond and adapt to the rapidly shifting demands of work.  

What do managers need right now

It’s likely that managers need a lot of help right now as the “workplace” seems to be continually shifting. Even in a stable environment, managing is challenging, let alone when so many things are changing. 

So, where do you start? 

Based on my recent experience training managers and hearing about their current challenges, there are some skills and support you could offer them right now that could have a profound impact. 

And they are likely some you may be overlooking. 

Self-care

Managers have perhaps the toughest job in the organization and they often carry some of the heaviest workloads as well.  

They feel stretched thin, they are tired, and if they aren’t burnt out yet, they are likely on the path there. That’s bad news for everyone because burned-out managers are not great at engaging and supporting employees. 

Giving managers the permission and tools to care for themselves is incredibly important. If they don’t care for their own well-being, they don’t have the energy to lead others effectively. 

When managers prioritize self-care, it’s contagious for their team and leads to improved well-being for everyone. And well-being is fuel for increased performance. 

To learn more about self-care, you can read my post “Self-Care is a Management Skill.” 

Reducing Uncertainty

A big part of what’s made the past two years so challenging for everyone is the overwhelming amount of uncertainty we’ve all had to deal with. 

Uncertainty at work can be dangerous when left unchecked, in part because of how our brains have evolved to deal with it. 

For example, let’s say you have a family member who was driving in to visit you for a few days and they are due to arrive at 5 p.m. 

5 p.m. comes and goes with their arrival. At 5:30 p.m., you call their cell phone to check on them and there’s no answer. 

Where does your mind go? What kind of scenario do you imagine?

If you are like most people, you are assuming an accident (or worse). Your gut tells you something bad happened. 

This is what our brains do. Our innate survival instincts trigger us to assume the worst when we are uncertain. It’s all about self-protection.

Unfortunately for managers, the same trigger goes off for any kind of uncertainty at work. When you get an email from your managers suggesting a meeting at the end of the day without any explanation, you might think, “Am I getting fired?” even if you have no reason to believe that’s the case. 

So, given the fact that we are living in an era of prolonged and ongoing uncertainty, we need to help equip managers with how to combat it. 

To fight uncertainty requires the skills to create greater clarity. Clarity about expectations. Clarity about the path forward. Clarity about their progress or performance. 

And while there are a lot of tools to help create clarity, one of the most powerful techniques I teach is what I call The Golden Rule of Management

If it matters, write it down. 

The act of putting things into writing forces a move toward clarity. A common source of uncertainty is a misinterpretation of what is said. Putting those same words in writing helps reduce the opportunity for a misunderstanding. 

To learn more, you can read my post about the Golden Rule.  

Show some love

The past few years have not just been hard on managers, it’s been hard on everyone. Work looks and feels different now than it did before. 

Our collective mental health is on the decline. People are quitting their jobs at record rates. It’s a chaotic time.

And while it seems that so much of the discussion around work these days has to do with where you work (hybrid, remote, onsite, etc.), there’s something more fundamental we should focus on first. 

Regardless of where an employee works, we know from decades of research that the factors that most influence their engagement are feeling valued, trusted, and cared for. Employees experience their work as a relationship.  

Effective managers recognize this and treat work like a relationship. They invest in building a relationship with their people. They show they care. 

While I know we don’t use the word “love” at work all that often, it’s pretty obvious that it’s exactly what we need more of right now. People want to feel loved at work. 

Teaching managers how to show the love and build better relationships with their people will pay huge dividends, regardless of what the future holds for your workforce. 

You can learn more about how to do this in my post, “Managing Through Love.” 

Invest in Your Managers

If you knew that one factor was responsible for 70% of your business profit, how much time and investment would you make in that factor? Probably a lot. 

And yet, we know managers factor into employee engagement, performance, and retention. Are we investing appropriately?  

It’s time to kill the “bad manager” narrative. Bad managers are not the issue, it’s a lack of investment and focus given towards developing and equipping good managers with the skills and tools they require. 

You can fix that starting today.

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