For most executives, their direct reports are not regular employees
but managers. Executives rely on their managers to implement the company’s vision, goals, and strategies as well as to manage all the employees they supervise.
It’s a truism that talented employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Your managers are brand ambassadors for the company as a whole when it comes to attracting and retaining talented employees. So, how do you best manage the managers?
Supervising a manager is not much different than supervising any employee. It requires clear communication and feedback, making sure their goals are aligned with yours, evaluating their performance including providing both praise and constructive feedback, and supporting their career development.
Here are six tips to help you be effective at managing your managers.
A good manager listens to team members and fosters a relationship where each employee is secure enough to be open with them, especially where there is a problem. As an executive, you can’t have a true picture of a manager if you are unfamiliar with their team members and have no idea what team members are saying. Listening directly to team members is important, but it must be handled carefully because you don’t want to undermine the manager’s own authority. By becoming knowledgeable about the manager’s team, you are in a position to provide the manager with coaching and advice.
If the manager has been successful in building trust with their team members, keeping the communication lines open will not be a problem. However, if you find yourself learning things from employees that have never even been mentioned by the manager, that should raise some red flags. When meeting with managers, be sure to delve into how well they are communicating with their teams, including how they are listening and handling issues.
Most managers naturally follow the lead of executives when it comes to their own leadership style. Part of your job as an executive is to demonstrate to managers how to handle various situations. This includes acting as a role model not only during formal meetings, but in your day-to-day interactions and behaviors. As a leader, you are influencing others all the time, even when you may not be aware of it. Be sure to model the same values and attitudes to your managers that you expect them to model to their staff. For example, if you want a manager to be open to listening to ideas from the rank and file, be sure you are open to listening to ideas from the manager and reiterating to him or her that the same is expected straight on down the line.
If you wish for the manger to empower individual team members and give them a good deal of autonomy rather than micro-managing them, be sure you are doing just that with the manager. The old, failed mantra of parenting that goes, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no more apt to succeed in the workplace than within families. The reality is that actions really do speak louder than words. Be sure you are walking the talk at all times and modeling the behavior and values you wish to see from managers.
Employees, especially good employees, will ask their managers lots of questions. The best and brightest will want to know the why behind things. They will expect their manager to share information, clearly communicate goals and objectives, and provide plenty of ongoing feedback and encouragement when it comes to accomplishing all the tasks that will realize those objectives. As the leader of your managers, you must give them the tools and messages they need to answer all those pertinent questions they are getting from their employees. In addition, the people who report to your managers will be aware of how their managers stand with the executive team.
If they perceive that their manager is not really being respected, valued, or listened to, that will be strongly demotivating. Employees desire a manager who will support them and encourage them, but they know that is contingent on the manager experiencing that from his or her own superiors. Take advantage of opportunities to publicly praise managers, request their advice or opinions, and provide them with credit when they have actively contributed to a successful outcome. In turn, they will be that much more likely to do the same for their direct reports.
As an executive, managers look to you for guidance and answers. Avoid falling into the trap of simply being a sounding board for problems and then quickly guiding the conversation back to performance metrics and whether or not the manager has hit them, never mind how. This means taking the time to be aware of the manager’s key projects and team members and regularly asking them how those projects are going, how their team members are doing, and what you can do to help. In addition, be sure to ask managers for direct feedback and details about how they are coaching and developing their team members.
It bears repeating that managers take their cue from leadership. If you spend a good deal of time discussing their coaching style and how effectively they are coaching and motivating their employees, they will understand that this is a very important part of their role. By contrast, if you mostly just ask for the numbers and don’t delve into issues until they have reached a crisis level, a manager will likely take the same approach with staff. That will have the unfortunate effect of undermining engagement, missing opportunities to develop people, and ultimately will mean losing the best and brightest team members.
It’s useless to expect open, two-way communication between managers and employees if that’s not the communication model those managers experience with you. If you want them to act as effective coaches and mentors, be sure to act as a coach and mentor to them. This means being open to their feedback, their ideas, and their concerns.
Look for opportunities to offer praise as well as constructive criticism to managers. Be sure you are being consistent in the messages you are giving them, and when a change is necessary, be sure you are being clear as to the reasons behind the change as well as how to implement it. In addition, feedback you offer should be immediate and ongoing, not something that’s reserved for yearly or quarterly reviews.