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Writing in HBR Blog Network, Randall Beck and James Harter isolate five actions of truly exceptional managers.
1. They motivate their reports to engage in the mission and take action.
2. They are assertive, overcoming obstacles and resistance.
3. They are accountable and create a culture of accountability.
4. They build solid relationships based on trust.
5. They don't make decisions based on politics.
Beck and Harter note that only one in 10 people do all of these things on a regular basis; a further two in 10 do some of them regularly. No wonder that so many of us don't feel engaged by our managers; no wonder that we find it so hard to be good managers ourselves.
If you're not a "natural" manager, this information is still useful to you. It might be possible to cultivate some or all of these skills, in part by simply keeping in mind that they've been shown to be effective. But perhaps even more importantly, on an individual level, is understanding that these factors matter, before you decide to pursue a management role (or recommend someone else for one).
"Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it," write Beck and Harter. "This practice doesn't work. Experience and skills are important, but people's talents -- the naturally recurring patterns in the ways they think, feel, and behave -- predict where they'll perform at their best."
So if you're in charge of promoting someone, keep this in mind. And if you're contemplating a promotion, consider whether a management role is what will make the best use of your talents.
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