The saying goes that employees join companies but leave managers. There are of course exceptions to that rule, but for many employees, managers determine their happiness or frustration on the job. Gallup's State of the American Manager report found that a manager accounts for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement, and half of Americans have left a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.
Why is that? Sometimes it's because of poor communication on a team. Other times it's because of one-way feedback that's deemed destructive rather than constructive.
But I'd argue that there's one underlying cause of ineffective management that's often overlooked, and it's an important one to acknowledge on the path to becoming a more effective leader. It's the need to grow your own practice as a leader.
Managers who are serious about growth are constantly raising the bar for both themselves and those on their team. As Lolly Daskal, an executive leadership coach and founder of Lead From Within says, "Growth in leadership is mandatory, not optional. If we fail to grow it's not a matter of just staying where we are--we become stagnant and fall further and further behind."
By narrowing in on three specific skills that managers most commonly lack, you can help to build a future of strong effective leaders that will help to create a more inclusive workplace for all.
1. Building Self-Awareness
The best place to start with growth is looking inward, not outward, so it's not a surprise that self-awareness is often a blind spot in managers. Self-awareness can help you build trust and psychological safety within your team, improve your relationships with key stakeholders, and ultimately hire and coach a better group of leaders.
If you think self-awareness might not be your strongest skill, try building in reflection time for deliberate self-analysis or soliciting some clear and actionable feedback. Starting with yourself also sets a tone on humility and self-reflection that other people on your team can replicate, so it's a double win for the folks in your organization.
2. Navigating Complexity
Understanding and quickly solving complex, high-velocity problems to make high-quality decisions is critical as a leader (especially when you're juggling multiple issues at any given time). But finding solutions for these complex business challenges also forces you to flex your creative problem-solving skills and think outside the box, allowing you to creatively manage complexity, and be able to find better solutions to those seemingly impossible business challenges.
If you're struggling with a complex challenge, start by defining the problem in just a few sentences. That might be hard, but it will help you make sense of the issue you're facing. And make sure to ask for input from others. Sometimes, leaders have a "hero complex" and feel that they alone need to come up with the answer--even though we know greatness is rarely achieved alone. And make sure to hear from different voices to get to an answer. Doing so will help increase the odds of a creative and highly collaborative solution.
3. Leading With Empathy
Empathy is rooted in creating a culture of belonging. Managers need to be able to lead with kindness and compassion, understanding that everyone on their team brings a unique perspective and background. By building empathy as a manager, you also build trust, foster psychological safety, and outperform teams with leaders who are siloed into one way of thinking and leading.
Be open, curious, and flexible in your management approach. It will help you better relate to others and seek out diverse viewpoints to help solve some of those complex problems your company or department faces.
I once learned during a leadership training that most people try to increase vulnerability in their teams by asking others to be vulnerable. In reality, leaders need to start with their own behavior. Start by admitting things you don't know, acknowledging your own limitations, or identifying and sharing something you know you need to work on, and then create space for others to do the same. Virtually every interpersonal issue in an office can benefit from more empathy, so developing that muscle early and often, and revisiting it, is a powerful tool in your management approach.
The future of work is now. And in a world where the job search is in the hands of the candidate rather than the company, workplace culture and company leadership become the biggest competitive advantage when attracting top talent. That's why it's never been more important that leaders continue to learn, grow, and skill up in these areas that many lack the most.
You have the unique opportunity to lead from the top down and create space for curiosity, empathy, and inclusiveness at work. But to do that you can't shy away from your blind spots--you have to embrace them. And you have to be more vulnerable in sharing them so your teams and colleagues can help you grow too.