Dear Leaders

A weekly letter with actionable leadership ideas.

What the Best Managers Do Differently

By Hamza Shayk

Dear Leaders,

Low employee engagement is a pressing concern that many of you have expressed in our conversations. How can we improve it?

Recent Gallup studies provide some insight:

– Only 33% of employees are fully engaged and thriving.

– 51% are ‘quiet quitting’, meaning doing the bare minimum.

– And the remaining 16% are ‘loud quitting’, meaning openly unhappy and disruptive.

Loud quitters pose a complex challenge; they’re the ones who find themselves at odds with the company’s objectives or leadership. This discord could stem from serious personal issues, eroded trust, or being in a role that doesn’t align with their skills, leading to repeated crises. Regardless of the why, they represent a serious risk to your organization’s wellbeing and containing it promptly is critical.

Then there are the quiet quitters, those who simply occupy a seat and watch the clock, doing the minimum required. Disengagement for them may stem from stress, burnout, or a disconnection from the company’s mission, among other factors.

It’s with the quiet quitters that the greatest potential for transformation and growth lies. They make up about half of any given workforce and are often on the cusp of change, waiting for that nudge to rekindle their commitment. And the person to provide that nudge? Their manager.

Exceptional team performance is a result of superior management. So, the key to enhancing employee engagement doesn’t necessarily lie in changing the employees, but first in equipping their managers with the necessary support and essential leadership abilities.

Here is a list of fundamental skills and behaviors that elevate an average manager to an outstanding one:

1. Positive leadership in all seasons:

Leadership that skews towards negativity or harsh criticism dampens an employee’s spirit and work output. When managers frequently gripe or point fingers, their teams are far less likely to put in the extra effort needed for outstanding results.

Skillful managers navigate a balanced course: they don’t gloss over issues, nor do they dwell on them. Instead, they candidly address challenges while highlighting opportunities. The result? Team members leave these interactions with a renewed sense of purpose and engagement, which naturally translates into heightened energy and improved performance.

2. Trust as a key to enhanced team success:

Employee engagement studies reveal an ironic twist: the more a team talks about trust, the less likely they are to truly have it.

Average managers often mistake trust for simply not engaging in negative actions like dishonesty or theft. In contrast, the best managers understand trust as building strong relationships grounded in authenticity and clear expectations.

Trust isn’t just avoiding the wrong actions; it’s consistently demonstrating positive, reliable behaviors.

3. Creating an engaging workplace:

Outstanding managers motivate their team to exceed expectations, but to do so, cultivate an environment that propels exceptional engagement. Enhance your approach by learning how to set more precise expectations, enabling team members to excel in their roles.

Many top managers didn’t begin as the best; they possessed natural talent and, through learning and guidance, mastered the elements that drive stronger team engagement.

4. Amplifying strengths over correcting weaknesses:

Focusing on what people do best is far more effective than trying to fix their weaknesses. The best managers understand the futility of trying to change inherent behaviors. Instead, they place people in roles that match their strongest skills and ramp up the expectations accordingly.

They encourage strategic thinkers to craft top-notch strategies. They expect ace networkers to generate valuable connections and opportunities. And they push those with a knack for execution to create the most efficient systems and processes.

5. Using data to define and assess goals:

Even the best managers are skeptical of relying solely on their own judgment. They turn to hard data, especially when assessing team performance. The rationale is simple: numbers don’t have biases. By setting clear, quantifiable targets, top managers create a transparent benchmark for success.

These managers not only establish specific goals but also ensure accountability, making it clear that not meeting these goals has repercussions.

6. Strategically aligning top talent:

The hallmark of exceptional managers is their continuous search for talent, not just for their own teams but for the organization as a whole. Much like elite sports coaches, they don’t passively wait for star players; they actively seek them out.

7. Regular and proportional recognition:

A job well done deserves recognition. Great managers ensure that praise matches the level of achievement.

It’s surprising how sparingly recognition is given in many workplaces today, yet not once have I heard an employee say they’ve had enough of it.

I’m a big fan of weekly one-on-ones with direct rapports. These don’t have to last for more than 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes a week make all the difference. These conversations become especially meaningful if focused on the team member’s goals, strengths, and genuine recognition for the good work done.

In Conclusion

To improve employee engagement, provide your managers with the tools and education they need to effectively support and motivate their teams. This could include training on effective communication, feedback, and recognition strategies, as well as resources for career development and work-life balance. By empowering your managers to create a positive and engaging work environment, you help build a stronger culture, increase commitment and productivity, and reduce turnover.

For leaders at all levels: You have the opportunity to embrace these key principles, to learn and infuse them into your leadership style. This isn’t just skill-building; it’s your legacy creation. With each principle adopted, you’re not simply managing; you’re transforming your team and setting the stage for sustained success.

Onward and upward!

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