“Great” Managers Deploy Own, Other’s Talents to Succeed

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

How would you like to be a great manager, not just an average one? How would you like a strong workplace where your employees consider your company “a great place to work”? How would you like to create and keep high performers?

According to Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break all the Rules, (Simon & Schuster) the relationship between the employee and their immediate manager is the most important factor to employee performance and retention. It defines the work environment and determines job satisfaction.

“People leave managers, not companies” say the authors, “If your relationship with your manager is fractured, then no amount of in-chair messaging or company-sponsored dog-walking will persuade you to stay and perform”.

“So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people-in the form of better pay, better perks and better training-when in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue. If you have a turnover problem, look first to your managers”.

What makes a manager great?

Buckingham & Coffman are part of the Gallup organization which interviewed over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies to uncover what makes a manager great, not just average.

“The world’s great managers share a montra”, say Buckingham & Coffman. “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”

First, Break all the Rules includes some advice from great managers:

“Focus on each person’s strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person. Instead do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents. Help each person become more of who he already is.”

1. Focus on talent, not just skills and knowledge when selecting an employee for a particular position.

Great managers know the power of talent. Talents make up the intrinsic core of who we are. They are natural. They are not taught nor gained like skills and knowledge. Buckingham & Coffman say that “You cannot teach a person in customer service to have more empathy or a sales person to be more competitive. Thus, you cannot teach talent, you can only select for talent.”

2. Casting is everything and turn talent into performance.

A great manager has the ability to help each employee uncover and maximize their special talent. Outstanding managers find and focus on the strengths and talents of the individual.

“It is the most efficient way to help them achieve their goals and it encourages people to take responsibility for who they really are…By knowing their unique talents and what drives each one, they help each individual “character” play out his unique role to the fullest.”

3. Manage by exception.

Great managers know that each person is different and manages around those differences. Each person has their own style and is driven and motivated by individual passions and therefore has a unique destiny.

4. Set specific desired outcomes and then let each person find his own route towards achieving them.

Great managers allow each person to use their individual talents in the process of achieving their own peak performance. They know that no two people get from point A to point B in the same fashion.

5. Spend the most time with your best people.

Great managers don’t try to fix or correct their employees. They spend their time “highlighting and perfecting individual styles-stretching and focusing each particular individual.” They learn about excellence by studying their best, not by studying and trying to fix failure.

6. Manage around the employee’s weakness so you can spend time focusing on his strengths.

They suggest ideas such as creating a support system or working with a complimentary partner. One who’s strength is their weakness. If poor performance continues, “At this point it is time to fix the casting error and to stop trying to fix the person.” advises the authors.

7. Make sure your employees can answer “strongly agree” to a survey of 12 questions intended to measure job satisfaction.

They consider the following 6 questions to be the most important, the foundation of the employee’s sense of success and satisfaction.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Buckingham and Coffman provide a compelling analysis of practical ideas to creating great managers which in turn create and retain peak performers. The fundamentals provided can be applied to the professional coaching process. Professional coaching can help your managers identify and strengthen their performance and devise strategies to keep them focused on developing their employees.