4 essential skills for middle managers

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How did we let one of the most important jobs in our organizations fall so far in effectiveness?

Numerous research studies have confirmed the importance of middle managers in developing and retaining talent, coordinating enterprise initiatives across multiple teams, and turning top-line strategy into action. Yet, the Gallup Organization reports 82% of managers are “terribly miscast” in their roles and 25% are “dangerously lousy.”

Managers Under Pressure

Continuously challenged by superiors to bring the company’s strategy to life and rally the troops to get the job done, managers are frequently caught in the middle of conflicting priorities, and have some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression of any worker group.

Also challenged by subordinates who look to them for professional development, and widely attributed as the most important influencer on employee engagement and retention, most managers now have 50% more direct reports than they did ten years ago, and spend 15% less time with each team member, according to research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB).

Not surprisingly, engagement levels have fallen more sharply among middle managers than all other groups, and we must turn this trend around.

A lack of initial training for new managers, and scant or non-existent ongoing training and support are widely attributed to the dismal state of middle management in many organizations.

Four Essential Skills for Managers

Research conducted by the Ken Blanchard Companies found four essential skills managers can use to help them navigate their role and more effectively interact with their employees. These skills promote clarity and a positive sense of regard for the individual and are both people and results oriented. 

  1. Listen to Learn Listening is one of the most important skills any manager can have. It makes their employees feel valued and heard, and it builds trust. In a listening situation, managers need to be aware of their aims and intentions. Are they listening with the intent of understanding and being open to influence by the other party? In any interaction with a direct report, it’s crucial that managers do the latter. Any other behavior isn’t active listening and will only frustrate employees.
  1. Inquire for Insight Great managers ask questions that allow their employees to share insights and ideas that can benefit projects, tasks, and the team in general. It’s essential for managers to not only hear what their direct reports are saying but also to understand what they’re saying. Ask open-ended questions to give employees an opportunity to reflect and clarify what’s important to them and recap the conversation in order to check for understanding
  1. Tell Your Truth Being honest with colleagues can be a challenge if you fear hurting or offending others. But done properly, sharing your truth with others can be empowering for both parties. Being truthful builds trust and authenticity, and allows you to share information to help move employees forward, build confidence and create a safe environment in which everyone can share their feelings honestly and respectfully.
  2. Express Confidence – Employees want to perform for a manager they know has confidence in them and offers support as needed. Managers who acknowledge employees and maintain a respectful, positive regard for their contributions are building employees’ confidence. This allows managers to preserve enthusiasm and good relationships regardless of the topic of conversation.
By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
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