AnnaMarie Houlis
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Most managers working in the U.S. today are wrong for their roles, according to Gallups's State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report, which provides an in-depth look at what characterizes great managers based on over four decades of extensive talent research. Gallup studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, featuring analysis that measures the engagement of 27 million employees, and the final report examines the crucial link among talent, engagement and vital business outcomes, including profitability and productivity.

Perhaps one of the most shocking findings is that only 35 percent of managers are considered engaged. It's not to say that most managers don't have talent; in fact, Gallup reports that their probably made them quite successful in their previous, non-managerial role. But "talent that makes someone a great salesperson, accountant or engineer is not the same talent that makes him or her a great manager," the researchers write. 

And a great manager is "someone who is responsible for leading a team toward common objectives. This individual takes the direction set forth by the organization’s leadership and makes it actionable at the local level... Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents. They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company."

But companies nonetheless continue to use outdated notions of succession to put people in these roles — they hire and promote based on individuals’ past experience or tenure, or they give people manager jobs as a “reward” for their performance in a completely separate role. 

"These organizations overlook talent, and when they do, they lose," the researchers write. "They spend needless time and energy trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Their managers are not engaged — or worse, are actively disengaged — and through their impact."

The sought-after talent combination that characterizes great managers only exists in about one in 10 people, according to the report. Another two in 10 people have some of the five talents and can become successful managers with the right coaching and development, but the majority of managers are miscast. In fact, only 18 percent of current managers have the high talent required of their role, while 82 percent do not have high talent.

But it's not all about talent either. Managers have the greatest impact on engagement, as they account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. According to Gallup's study of employee engagement, just 30 percent of U.S. workers are engaged, which demonstrates a link between poor managing and a nation of “checked out” employees. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers. But the percentage of engaged managers is only somewhat higher than the percent of engaged employees — only 35 percent of managers are engaged and, meanwhile, 51 percent are not engaged and 14 percent are actively disengaged.

Gallup estimates that managers who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.

Companies need to be training managers to develop their skills, accoridng to Gallup, which suggests that employees who "strongly agree" that their manager is open and approachable are engaged. At least two-thirds of employees who "strongly agree" that their manager helps them set work priorities and goals are engaged, and more than two-thirds of employees who "strongly agree" that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged. Gallup has also found that female managers are more likely to be engaged than male managers (41 percent  to 35 percent, respectively).

Creating a holistic, talent-based human capital strategy, growing instead of promoting employees to management, rewarding people based on their job performances instead of their job titles, and honoring managers’ need to continually improve are key to hiring and developing great, engaged managers, Gallup suggests.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.