Abra Cadabra, You’re a Manager!

Ask any HR manager responsible for conducting exit interviews and they will tell you that poor employee management is a leading factor in retention issues and employee dissatisfaction. “People don’t leave their companies, they leave their manager,” says study after study. So why do organizations still rely on magical thinking when it comes to promoting employees into manager roles?


A manager title is not a magic wand that, when waved over the head of an eager employee, suddenly transforms them into a leader equipped with the necessary skills to motivate, reward, communicate strategy, delegate and hire the best people. More than half of new managers receive no preparation beyond a shiny new batch of business cards. Career Builder found that the lack of training and support results in managers struggling to:

  • Deal with issues between co-workers– 25 percent
  • Motivate team members – 22 percent
  • Manage performance – 15 percent
  • Find resources to support the team – 15 percent
  • Create career paths for their employees – 12 percent


Wow, that list pretty much sums up the main responsibilities of any manager, no wonder people job hop so often. And it’s not just retention that suffers, poor managers do a lot of damage to an organization:

  • Create bottlenecks and missed deadlines due to poor delegation skills
  • Risk legal issues and fines due to lack of compliance with HR and other policies
  • Make less than stellar hiring decisions due to weak screening and interview skills
  • Negatively impact productivity and quality


Manager magic happens when an individual combines experience and training with strong emotional intelligence to develop, lead and motivate their teams. Miss even one of the three pillars and the manager is like a two legged stool – still standing, wobbly and unsure, while they lean on something sturdy to compensate for what they lack. On their own, or in times of confusion, stress or crisis, they tip over.


1. Training

Training in communication, negotiation, project management and leadership skills is required, and can be implemented even after someone has been given a manager role. The American Management Association has a nice succinct description of the basic training that will boost management skills.  If you need to beef up your learning content to meet the needs of your managers and potential managers, take advantage of the many courseware developers who have excellent management training curriculum. These courses can easily be added to your current learning programs and learning management system (LMS).


2. Experience

Great managers continuously learn from experience. Acquiring management knowledge through experience can – and should –  begin before the promotion to manager. But isn’t that a catch-22? How do you get management experience unless you are a manager? Mentoring programs and project leadership are ways to gain on-the-job experience, but valuable leadership experience is also gained outside of work. Look at a manager recruit’s off-the-clock activities such as non-profit work, coaching sports, or leading community or political projects.


3. Emotional Intelligence

All the training and experience in the world isn’t going to make up for a weak third pillar – emotional intelligence. In fact, it could be argued that this is the most important pillar of all because without it managers will falter and eventually fail. Travis Bradbury, a leading researcher in industrial psychology and author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, found that the highest levels of emotional intelligence are found in mid-level managers. Unfortunately, emotional intelligence scores decrease as the job titles move up the ladder. But even with that disappointing news, the same study found that the most successful managers have the highest emotional intelligence, regardless of where they fall on the ladder. When hiring and promoting, look for candidates that demonstrate empathy, strong communication skills, curiosity, emotional balance and lack of perfectionism.


Don’t rely on magical thinking when hiring and promoting managers. Management excellence is the most important factor when it comes to employee engagement, productivity and retention. Foosball, beer Fridays, flexible schedules and great benefits aren’t going to make up for the damage that one poorly trained and emotionally unsuitable manager can do to your culture and organizational success.


How to Develop Future Leaders

There’s a big difference between managers and leaders. Leaders listen, motivate and lead by example. They know how to gracefully navigate through difficult and often uncomfortable workplace situations.


Training and developing future leaders is consistently ranked as a top priority. Leadership training goes beyond communicating what leadership styles are important. You can’t just throw up your corporate values on the careers page of your website or paint them all over the boardroom walls, you need a strategy.


We sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and founder of Fistful of Talent, and Tim Sackett, President of HRU Technical Resources and Fistful of Talent contributor, to discuss the characteristics of great leaders and how to instill those vales in your team members. Check out the recording of the L&D Hangout!