Why do companies usually pay managers more than the people who do the work? Does the managers' work boost the productivity of the workers enough to justify the managers' pay?

The answers depend on what the managers are doing, according to the results of a survey of 3,646 software engineers and managers by a team of Microsoft researchers. If the managers are doing the right things, their higher pay definitely pays off. If not, the managers can do some serious damage to your company's performance and prospects.

By "the right things," these researchers mean 15 specific attributes of effective software development managers. And I believe that with slight modification of one of these attributes, the findings could help you be a better leader -- all you have to do is hire managers who excel at these 15 attributes.

1. They are available.

Excellent engineering managers "signal themselves as approachable and devote time to the engineer when needed," according to the study. I think what one survey respondent said makes this attribute applicable to any manager: "I ask the manager if he has five minutes and he always says yes, and then 20 minutes later he is still there."

2. They are technical.

Another attribute of management excellence is "to be knowledgeable about the system and technologies the engineer is working with and offer input for design dilemmas." I think if you broaden the concept of technical knowledge to include the specific expertise of any functional department, this attribute is valuable in any manager.  

3. They enable autonomy.

Excellent engineering managers "provide freedom on how engineers work, show trust and support for their decisions, and help engineers be independently responsible." I think enabling autonomy is great management regardless of the discipline. 

4. They support experimentation.

In general, excellent engineering managers encourage people "to try out new things, and signal a safe environment for unsuccessful attempts," according to the research. I believe in this idea so strongly that I included it as one of seven principles of Value Leadership in my 2003 book. 

5. They grow talent.

Excellent managers provide their people with challenging work, suggest training to gain relevant skills, and give actionable feedback to improve performance. 

6. They promote fairness.

Excellent managers appreciate the contributions of their people, hold themselves accountable for achieving team goals, publicly recognize achievements, and privately correct their errors.  

7. They build a relationship with team members.

Excellent managers take an interest in "the employees' life outside work, and care about them as a person," according to the research.  

8. They recognize individuality.

Moreover, excellent managers understand their employees' strengths and opportunities for improvement, they value diverse perspectives in their team, and tailor "the definition of success to each individual's talents and interests," noted the research.  

9. They clear a path to execution.

Excellent managers keep outside distractions and conflicts from taking time away from getting the job done. As one of the survey respondents said, "I had a manager, she kept the path clear for me to do my work, to go sit down and code for 10 hours. That was perfect."

10. They build team culture.

Excellent managers live according to the rules, norms, and habits of the team and collaborate with team members to agree on shared values.

11. They guide the team.

Excellent managers coach their people to produce better work, help them think about how to overcome challenges in doing their work, and develop their peoples' independent decision-making skills. 

12. They maintain a positive working environment.

Excellent managers help people "balance work and personal life, [organize events that energize the team], celebrate team successes, and ensure good morale," according to the research.  

13. They inspire the team.

By demonstrating "passion about their work, their team, and the company," excellent managers inspire people to rise to the challenges of their jobs rather than telling them what do to. 

14. They facilitate external communication.

Excellent managers help workers handle the requests they get from other teams and managers -- negotiating on their behalf while "mediating their own team's requests to other teams," noted the research. 

15. They drive alignment.

Finally, excellent managers help people understand the team's mission and goals and how these fit within the overall vision for the company.

As a leader, you should hire and promote managers who best demonstrate each of these 15 attributes of managerial excellence. If your managers lack these attributes of excellence, you may suffer high talent turnover and fall short of your goals.

If they follow these practices, your company will have an easier time achieving its goals -- and have a basis for setting more ambitious goals in the future.  

Published on: Jun 19, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.