A focus on Employee Success

Billions upon billions are spent on leadership training and development and studies demonstrate that many companies plan to increase this, with priorities including growing the succession pipeline, retaining high potential employees, and fostering innovation and creative thinking. Even with all of this investment, with the state of the leadership landscape, 77% of organizations are experiencing a leadership gap. Going beyond the typical skills you associate with leadership, in 2017 the Engagement Institute identified stressed leaders as a large cause of employee disengagement, however, stress is on the rise with as many as 8/10 Americans afflicted by stress.

We have been talking with several organizations who are looking at up-leveling their development initiatives to try and close the gap by looking at deeper levels of employee growth. Through our work researching authentic leadership, and most recently, what makes people perform and feel their best, we have seen some common behaviors emerge that separates those managers that enable their employees to do their best work, feel good, and feel valued, from…well…the rest of the managers. Given the manager’s critical role in employee engagement, experience, and performance, here is a summary of some of the patterns we saw.

1: They enable their employees to focus on their work efforts

We found that there are two elements to this, for which several core behavioral competencies are needed. Firstly, great managers tend to remove roadblocks that are impeding their employees. Of course, employees naturally will try to get something done if they need to, however, there are times when they have exhausted all options and they need to escalate to their manager to move forward. Roadblocks could come from policies, processes, or people (be that internal or external parties). Great managers work to remove roadblocks in the best way possible for the employee, the other parties involved, and the company. This may sound simple, but in fact, it takes a plethora of skills, including contextual awareness to understand the situation, communications to work through to the resolution, active listening to understand the issues, emotional intelligence to respond in the right way, and a leadership style that focuses on how they can best serve their employees. We have all seen those managers who remove the roadblock by “burning the bridge” so to speak. This leaves the employee in the awkward position of still having to work with those that were trampled on by their manager. We have all likely also seen those managers who believe it is not a part of their role to “get involved” with such activities. Both of these can have a negative impact on the employee’s engagement and productivity.

Secondly, while organizational politics regarding strategic plans and influence naturally exist within a business, when they become dysfunctional they can be damaging to morale, foster negative emotions, and impede business performance. Managers focused on their employees’ success tend to provide “air cover” which can be described as, “a leader’s ability to cover a subordinate long enough for that person to get through a tough period, turn things around, or move an initiative far enough along so as to be able to stand on its on”. This, in turn, not only allows their employees to focus on what they need to do, but also ensures their employees feel supported when taking on challenges, or risks, which can lead to greater levels of agility and creativity.

By enabling employees to maintain a focus on what they need to do to achieve their goals it helps them feel valued and maximizes the positive emotions they will feel from using their strengths and contributing their individual value to the bigger picture. Basically, you hired people because of who they are and what they can do, so…enable them to spend time doing it!

2: They focus on the growth of the employee as a person

Another trait we found, was that these managers tended to know their employee beyond the transactional level of manager to employee. They took the time to genuinely connect with them as people, understand their desires, what inspires them, and what they need. This allows them to actively participate in their employees’ growth and leads to higher levels of satisfaction from the employee.

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, the top determinant of employee satisfaction and trust in their employer is the timeless concept of supervisor support. They studied the impact of perceived supervisor support in career development on employee satisfaction, and the influence was profound. They found that employees who felt supported were twice as likely to feel satisfied and trusted the organization more.

Placing priority on knowing their employees, structuring feedback and opportunities based on individual values and needs, and spending the time to connect with their employees, enables these managers to identify and expose them to opportunities in which they can contribute their skills, expand their knowledge, be challenged, and cultivate new capabilities.

Beyond this development, managers focused on employee success, know when it is time for their employees to fly onwards to their next chapter. It can be easy, when you have a high performing, positively energized employee, to want to keep them on your team. However, great managers understand when their employee may need to move on to new challenges so that they can keep growing and not reach a demotivating plateau. For example, if you have a customer support employee who after some time is finding their role limited, you could work to move them laterally or upwardly into a new role where they can apply their skills to greater challenges that will help them continue their development. Staying connected to how your employee is feeling about their work, their growth and their short and long-term goals can help managers best identify when a change may be best.

3: They role model behaviors that demonstrate the cultural values and clear integrity

A third trend was that these types of managers role-modeled the behaviors that demonstrated their organization’s cultural values and integrity. It is one thing to write down the values the organization has, present them, and talk about them…it is another thing altogether to demonstrate them through behaviors. It is likely saying “we communicate with transparency” and then employees finding out about something about the company from another source other than the company itself or their manager. That good old phrase, “actions speak louder than words,” is what these managers keep in mind. Behaviors we saw here included clear and timely communications, not throwing people under the bus, and taking accountability.

We all know the impact of an individual who is draining and always in some negative state, either complaining, frustrated, or angry. This is because energy is contagious. When managers role model positively energizing behaviors such as resilience, stress management, renewal, and compassion, it is contagious to those around them. When they role-model negative behaviors, it can foster workplace toxicity. A study by the University of Manchester’s Business School demonstrated that employees working for a toxic boss experienced lower rates of job satisfaction. Reporting in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Russell Johnson and colleagues found that experiencing such rude behavior reduces employees’ self-control and leads them to act in a similar uncivil manner. In fact, their study demonstrated that “people who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result… This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward.”

Ensuring there is a congruence between your managers’ behaviors and the organization’s cultural values ensures that the desired workplace culture is fostered.


In summary, while there are many skills and capabilities that set great managers apart, and many reasons why development initiatives are not seeing the desired returns, it is a good idea to make sure that your managers are:

  • Enabling your employees to focus on using the very skills you placed them in the role for, rather than pointless meetings, dysfunctional organizational politics, and putting out non-stop fires.
  • Taking the time to understand their employees as people, their needs, and desires so that they can best match them with growth opportunities both personally and professionally.
  • Role-modeling the cultural values of the brand, so that they clearly demonstrate the values to employees, fostering the workplace culture you desire.

Read More: