Becoming a good manager is no cake walk. Nailing down behaviors that lead to high employee engagement, trust, and loyalty requires continuous development.

But first, companies need to figure out whom to place into their management roles. Gallup research states that most companies fail to select candidates with the right talent for the job a mind-blowing 82 percent of the time.

Gallup CEO Jim Clifton famously expressed,

Here's something they'll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job -- bigger than all of the rest -- is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits -- nothing.

Google's Answer to 'What Makes a Great Manager?'

So what makes a great manager? Back in 2009, Google's Project Oxygen was birthed with a fundamental mission: To build better bosses.

As only a data-mining behemoth like Google can do, the Project Oxygen team in Google's People Innovation Lab spent a whole year data-mining performance appraisals, employee surveys, and nominations for top manager awards and other sources to evaluate the differences between the highest and lowest rated managers.

As The New York Times tells the story, the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers -- across more than 100 variables.

Once patterns were established, they then interviewed managers to gather more data, and to look for evidence that supported their notions. Finally, researchers coded more than 400 pages of interview notes and data, and rolled out the results to employees. Later, these results became the source of various training programs for managers.

By November 2012, the program had been in place for several years, and the company could point to statistically significant improvements in managerial effectiveness and performance, including manager quality for 75 percent of their worst-performing managers.

Google's 8 Qualities of Great Managers Revealed

In Project Oxygen, they found that successful managers consistently had these eight qualities, in order of importance:

1. They're good coaches.

2. They empower their team and don't micro-manage.

3. They express interest in their team members' success and personal well-being.

4. They productive and results-oriented.

5. They're good communicators and they listen to the team.

6. They help employees with career development.

7. They have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8. They have key technical skills that help them advise the team.

What's striking about most these traits is managers' deep commitment toward employee success. Take the most important activity for management success, that of being a good coach. Google emphasizes the practice of regular one-on-ones, and using the pull, not push, method of asking questions rather than prescribing answers, and contributing constructive feedback that balances the negative and positive.

In this digital age, I have advocated extensively for the near-extinct practice of one-on-ones, as I find it the ideal platform for giving feedback (especially when good managers have to give bad employees feedback). It still remains one of the best and most effective leadership strategies to help improve employee performance.

You'll also note that number eight on the list was technical skills, where, at Google (particularly on the engineering side), managers spend a majority of their time. Laszlo Bock, former senior vice president of People Operations, told The Times, "It turns out that that's absolutely the least important thing. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible."

It's still about the people, and making sure their human needs are being met so the whole organization thrives.

3 Manager Pitfalls

Lastly, it's also important to note that Project Oxygen also found three manager pitfalls:

1. Have trouble making a transition to the team.

These are people promoted to management without having the capacity to lead others. If hired from the outside, they don't always understand the unique aspects of managing at Google.

2. Lack a consistent approach to performance management.

Not coaching them to good performance, and giving them options to develop and stretch. They wait for the employee to come to them rather than being proactive in their employees' development.

3. Spend too little time managing and communicating.

Too much focus on the technical or other non-management aspects of the role.

Google Didn't Reinvent the Wheel

Upon glancing at Project Oxygen's management model, you'll note nothing outlandishly revealed in the way of behaviors. We've read about and watched thought-leaders expound on these for years in bestselling books and wildly popular TED Talks. It's another study on servant leadership and a strong reminder of the basics of good leadership.

And the "basics" is what you'll find managers practicing in those companies that make Fortune's annual "Best Companies to Work for" list. Is it any surprise Google has been listed the No. 1 place to work for the eighth time in 11 years?

The real difference is a relentless focus on the basics of leadership that will turn a mediocre manager into a good manager, and a good manager into a great manager. Management is a skill. Like any sports champion, the same rule applies: practice, practice, practice until your behavior changes. Then reflect, assess, get feedback and practice again. This is the path to becoming a great leader.

Published on: Jul 27, 2017