I see a lot of articles and presentations about what great leadership looks like. The catch phrases are numerous: leaders lead, managers manage; leaders lead people, managers manage tasks. As I read all these, I sometimes feel bad for managers.
Don’t get me wrong, I think strong leadership is critical to an organization. Without it, you’re destined for mediocrity, or worse. But there are a lot of great managers out there, without whom many an organization would be sunk.
So, what do those great managers do that’s different?
In an article in the Harvard Business Review a number of years ago, Markus Buckingham made the case that great managers recognize that their best chance for success lies in the efforts of their direct reports. They're able to build high-performance teams because they realize that the key to getting the most out of people is to focus on their uniqueness and coach them to use those qualities to excel. This is different from the approach of great leaders who look for those things which unite people in common pursuits.
In his research, Buckingham identified three specific tactics that great managers use to do find and leverage each person’s unique abilities:
Make the most of strengths
Great managers take time to identify each employee’s strengths and natural abilities by walking around, observing employees, watching how they react to various situations, noting activities they’re drawn to or excel at. Buckingham recommends asking, “what was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” Then looking into what made it so great.
Once a great manager knows each employee’s strengths, they tweak roles to capitalize on those strengths. They’re not afraid of unconventional job designs.
Trigger good performance
Great managers look for opportunities to trigger those behaviors through recognition. Recognition that takes into account each individual’s preferences. For example, some will prefer a public celebration of achievements, others a quiet pat on the back or a physical award of some sort. Again, it comes down to knowing your direct reports’ personality.
Tailor to learning styles
To effectively motivate and grow a direct report, great managers also adapt their coaching approach to a direct report’s learning style, Buckingham states. He cites three primary adult learning styles:
Much of what Buckingham discusses comes down to adapting to the individual, which means understanding them at deeper level; what we would call the Third Level of Assessment.
By understanding what makes their direct reports tick at a core level – their personality, temperament, learning style – great managers can adapt their approach to each direct report.
Any manager can be a great manager. All they need is the insights to understand their direct reports and the self-awareness to know themselves well enough to realize when they have to adapt their approach.