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When managing direct reports, inclusive leadership matters

November 30, 2021 - 21 min read


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What are direct reports?

Direct reports vs. indirect reports

Managing direct reports with inclusive leadership

Tips for managing direct reports

How to delegate to your direct reports

How to give constructive feedback

Evaluating the performance of a direct report

Great leaders care about their direct reports

Taking on a new role at work is always exciting. Especially when you’ve landed a new leadership role, like manager or supervisor.

As a leader, you have the power to make decisions that take a company forward. But with more power comes more responsibility. And one of the biggest responsibilities a manager can have is knowing how to effectively manage their direct reports.

But what are direct reports?

Direct reports are employees who work directly below another person in an organization. They report to someone above them in the organizational hierarchy who supervises their work.

Knowing how to manage direct reports effectively can be a struggle at times. Let’s explore how direct reports fit into an organization and why inclusive leadership is key for managing them.

What are direct reports?

As mentioned above, direct reports are employees working directly beneath superiors in a workplace. Direct reports are also commonly known as subordinates.

To further complicate things, direct reports often have their own direct reports. For example, a department head might have a team manager working directly beneath them. In turn, this person may manage their own team of employees.

Some managers may also have more than one direct report working under them.

Direct reports act as right-hand representatives for superiors in the workplace. This structure allows for more effective communication between the different tiers of an organizational structure.

Direct reports versus indirect reports

There is more than just one form of workplace reporting. And each type can be categorized into these two groups: direct reports and indirect reports.

Direct reports are formally placed in a position subordinate to a more senior staff member. They’re compelled by their job title and requirements to deliver work on behalf of the person they report to.

In a case where direct reports have their own direct reports, they are responsible for managing the performance of lower-tier employees. Either way, the organization they work for formally recognizes their authority.


On the other hand, indirect reports are all the employees who work under a specific senior manager and report to that senior manager’s direct reports.  

The senior manager governs the work performance and activity of indirect reports but they are not directly responsible for their management.

For example, the CEO of an organization could have 20 direct reports but thousands of indirect reports.

Managing direct reports with inclusive leadership

Managing a team of both direct and indirect reports requires many skills that don’t necessarily come with the job description.

Soft skills like empathy and effective listening are important aspects of what it means to be an inclusive leader in the workplace.

And yet, few employees feel that their leaders live up to this standard. According to a recent study, only 31% of employees believe their leaders display inclusive behavior.

So, what is inclusive leadership?

Inclusive leadership describes the management style of a leader who is aware of his or her own preferences and biases. And, they actively pursue new perspectives and ways of thinking that may challenge them.  

This approach to leadership enables those working with a leader to feel accepted, welcomed, and heard.

Inclusive leadership makes employees feel valued and respected — not just another cog in the wheel. This form of leadership gives employees a sense of belonging and fosters stronger connections.

Work environments governed by inclusive leaders are likely to see higher engagement rates and more innovation.

Inclusive leadership is not only good for promoting employee engagement and boosting morale. It can also help streamline efficiency and promote productivity within the workplace.


Tips for managing direct reports

The responsibility that comes with managing direct reports is not always easy. It requires constant emotional and mental effort on top of the day-to-day managerial tasks that exist.

One way of managing employees inclusively is to consider what they might be wanting from their leader.

So, what are your direct reports wanting from you? Although it depends on your level, and theirs, and the type of work they do, what direct reports want from managers has a lot of common factors.

Employees want to feel like they belong, like their work matters (to the customer, team, or organization), like they have the tools and skills to do the job competently, and they are positioned for stability and relevance. In addition, many employees want to feel like they are growing and making progress against career or life goals.

The direct manager or supervisor is the person with the most influence over whether an employee experiences these factors.   

With these needs and concerns of the direct report in mind, let’s go through some tips on how superiors can manage direct reports to create a better and more inclusive employee experience.

1. Get to know employees on a personal level

Good leaders show genuine interest in the people they work with. No employee wants to feel like a nameless tool in the box. They deserve the attention and interest of their superiors.

Take the time to do regular check-ins with your employees, no matter how many direct reports you have. Building trust starts with getting to know them on a personal level. This will help them feel like their position on the team is valued and validated.

2. Involve them in the decision-making process

Involving direct reports in your decision-making process shows them you care about their opinions. And that you believe they have something valuable to offer. It also helps them develop their decision-making skills and confidence. 


What’s more, your employees are likely full of ideas worth bringing to the table. By excluding them, you may miss out on opportunities for innovation. As a bonus, involving direct reports also creates a deeper sense of ownership in their work and the success of the team.

3. Empower your direct reports through delegation

Knowing when and where to place your direct reports is essential for creating a strong, effective, and efficient team. It also helps your direct reports find more meaning in their work.

In order to delegate properly, you need to gain a foundational understanding of each team member. Then you need to position them in a way that allows their natural strengths to shine. 

This also helps them develop and grow, becoming more valuable to the team and to themselves. 

4. Encourage participation and input

Even though you might be open to input from direct reports, they won’t necessarily feel comfortable providing it. You need to explicitly invite them to share their thoughts during team meetings.

Encouraging participation allows employees to feel more comfortable and confident in your presence. It promotes better communication and team problem-solving.

How to delegate to your direct reports

Knowing how to delegate forms a massive part of the responsibilities attributed to any team leader. Knowing your employees well is the first step. But it’s not always enough.

What do direct reports need from superiors when it comes to position or task allocation?

Let’s discuss some potential avenues you can take for effective direct report delegation.

1. Consider the right direct report to do the job

The best way to ensure your team is running as efficiently as possible is to place direct reports in positions where their strengths can be used.

A lot of time and energy can be wasted through improper placement. Make sure you know the strengths of your team members well before you delegate work.


2. Make them aware of how the task benefits the company as a whole

People tend to be more enthusiastic about their work when they feel it has a purpose or goal. Remind your direct reports regularly of the company’s core values and vision and how their work helps the organization achieve it. This will help them grasp their responsibilities with more dedication.

3. Provide them with the necessary resources and authority

You can’t expect your employees to take their work to the next level if you haven’t provided them with the right tools and resources.

Always make sure your team has access to everything they need to produce excellent work. This includes delegating authority to empower your team to get things done.

4. Have open communication

The key to unlocking your team’s potential largely lies in how efficiently they can communicate with you.

Taking an open stance to communication will ensure that direct reports always feel comfortable approaching you with questions or concerns. Use the correct communication skills to make sure they understand the task and listen to any concerns they might have.

How to give constructive feedback

Knowing how to ask for and receive feedback determines the quality of communication that happens between leaders and employees.

Being able to take constructive feedback from direct reports displays your humility as a leader. It also highlights your respect for their experiences and opinions.

Along with being able to take feedback, you should be able to give constructive feedback too. How can today’s business leaders elevate communication through constructive criticism and feedback? Let’s take a look at four ways to do just that.

1. Establish what you want to achieve from the feedback session

Being direct and straightforward is essential for any feedback session. Having an objective for the meeting will allow everyone present to be on the same wavelength. This allows you to tackle any issues without risking antagonism or time-wasting.


By establishing a common goal for the feedback session, everyone can enter the room with a greater sense of preparedness and collaboration.

2. Be specific

When conducting any kind of meeting, being specific about your expectations, goals, and opinions is critical.

Feedback time is not the time to hold back. It’s the allocated space in which everybody should feel free to express their concerns and opinions.

3. Make it a two-way conversation

Being in charge can often cause you to forget that there are opinions in the room just as important as your own. Some leaders might struggle to make feedback meetings a two-way conversation. But doing so is crucial to a successful meeting.

Feedback meetings are the ideal space for superiors and direct reports to meet on an equal footing. Everyone can voice their opinions in an open and honest manner.

4. Make feedback regular

You can encourage constructive feedback with direct reports by providing regular opportunities for them to occur. The more frequently you hold feedback meetings, the more comfortable employees will feel bringing up their opinions and perspectives.

Evaluating the performance of a direct report

Performance evaluations ensure that high performance does not go unrecognized. And that poor performance does not go unchecked.

However, maintaining a fair yet realistic understanding of an employee's performance can be difficult. Here’s what office leaders can do to conduct fair performance evaluations.

1. Include specific examples

Official performance evaluations have no room for bias or dishonesty. For a fair evaluation, leaders need to provide evidence that substantiates their assessment.

Whether a direct report has performed excellently or poorly, including specific examples of their behavior will add body to the evaluation. It will provide the employee with an opportunity to review their own work performance more accurately.

2. Consider their career goals

Performance evaluations carry a lot of weight in most professional work environments. They’re a reflection of the employee’s work ethic. And they may well be seen by upper-level management that’s monitoring their overall performance of their team.


While maintaining a fair stance, managers should aim to bear in mind an employee’s professional goals. This way, they help guide their employees in the career direction of their choosing.

3. Balance being positive and critical

In most aspects of life, balance is the key to success. Good performance evaluations are no different. Positivity is necessary for employee morale. But constructive criticism is also necessary for the sake of self-improvement.

4. Reflect on the past but focus on the future

If a performance evaluation focuses too much on the past, it may lack relevance. Similarly, if it focuses too much on the future, it verges on being idealistic.

That past is a good place to look for examples of behavior and work ethic. The future provides insight into an employee’s ambitions and goals. A little bit of both is necessary for a good performance evaluation.

Great leaders care about their direct reports

The best business leaders are those that can relate to and engage with their direct reports on a personal level. All while steering them in the right direction.

Great leaders see the value in those around them. They aim to push the company forward without trampling over those within their power.

With some hard work, you can develop leadership skills in yourself and in your employees.

BetterUp can help people at all levels develop inclusive leadership skills that promote a higher-performing, more human-centered work environment. Request a demo today and find out how much further your business can go when it unlocks its human potential.


Published November 30, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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