Try this at work: Round up any 10 managers (in your mind, the company break room or wherever they gather). Can you pick the single naturally talented one from the group? You heard correctly – just one.

According to a recent study by Gallup, that’s exactly how many you are likely to find. Only one in 10 managers, they say, has “authentic management talent,” while two more may have some of the requisite skills to qualify.

So what about the other seven? What are we really up against here?

Organizations are promoting for the wrong reasons.

Why is the percentage of untalented managers so high? The problem may be the promotion strategies that most organizations use.

It’s hard to find a professional who would say no to being promoted to manager. We are all striving to excel in our careers. To most professionals, moving up the ladder into management feels like a natural next step – even if they don’t actually have the talent or skills to lead.

Businesses regularly use promotion to managerial positions to reward high-performing individual contributors, acknowledge seniority or simply shine a light on someone who is a “people person.” Truth be told, none of these is the right reason for giving someone the title “manager.”

Gallup revealed that organizations fail to choose the right person for management a whopping 82 percent of the time! “Authentic management talent is rare,” said Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO. Only 10 percent of people have what Clifton calls “the natural, God-given talent to manage a team of people.”

What makes talented managers so different?

Studies conducted by Leadership Choice have corroborated Gallup’s findings that talented managers excel in five integral leadership qualities. Surprisingly, fewer than half of organizations have a list of qualities they look for – whether it’s a tangible checklist or an informal list of qualities – when hiring or promoting new leaders. Of those who do have lists (formal or informal), only one in 20 included even one of these five integral leadership qualities:

  • Communicates and interacts well with others
  • Delegates effectively
  • Coaches employees
  • Inspires trust and confidence
  • Makes decisions based on productivity, not politics

Being intentional with professional development and coaching in these five skills can successfully accelerate the level of management talent in your organization.

Say what? The power of communication in management

Of these skills, the most impactful is the ability to communicate and interact well with others. A lack of effective, positive communication results in severely low employee engagement, which can be the most insidious, erosive cost faced by today’s workplace. The engagement rate is routinely pegged at 30 percent and falling.

However, it might not be as hard as we think to tackle this cascading problem. There’s a reason most advice columns tout that communication is the basis of any healthy relationship. An employee engagement report by Gallup states:

Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them … And while all forms of communications are effective, managers who use a combination of face-to-face, phone, and electronic communication are the most successful at engaging employees.

In hundreds of client engagements, we’ve found higher engagement in organizations that:

  • Feel like a safe place for innovation, experimentation, debate, sharing new ideas and mutual support
  • Make performance management a constant discussion – not just an annual review – where employees regularly set performance goals and discuss barriers, progress and success
  • Help each of their team members understand how their roles fit into the company’s goals and success

This regular engagement between managers and employees produces a high level of organizational alignment, fosters team well-being and is exactly what a makes a good manager great.

Bottom Line

Despite the conclusion that not everyone is a naturally exceptional manager, providing managers with the right tools, resources and support will help them become more successful at achieving the aims of their organization. Even a small investment in the development and growth of a company’s managers will refine and cultivate their strengths to become high-performing leaders within the organization.

Brett Walker is president of Leadership Choice, an emerging leader in management and leadership development.

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