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Managers have a strong effect on team performance, for better or worse

November 17, 2021 - 4 min read

Stressed out manager riding on train

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What the data say

Why it matters

Managers are the fulcrum of any organization. They operate in that high pressure, middle area between employees and executives — managing directives from above while offering support and leadership to those below. And more keeps getting added to their plate.

The competition for top talent has placed a whole new set of expectations on them. From creating and maintaining a positive culture, to ensuring employees have proper work-life balance, managers have been left carrying the bag when it comes to crafting the employee experience.

And over the last two years, managers have had to bear the brunt of COVID-19’s impact on the workplace. In addition to maintaining operational efficiency and updating processes amidst lockdowns and social distancing mandates, they’ve also stepped up to support their employees’ emotional needs. 


Today’s managers not only have to understand and manage what their employees do, they also have to understand and manage how they feel. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, burnout, and stress have affected everyone during the pandemic, but managers are often the ones employees turn to help them cope.

So what happens when managers are the ones that are struggling? How are teams impacted by leadership that lacks key qualities like resilience, cognitive agility, or strategic thinking? And most importantly, what can organizations do to equip their managers to better handle the challenges that come with the job?

What the data say

Across 1600 teams, we looked at how direct reports view their managers and how that shows up in team outcomes. What we learned is that managers are amplifiers, and any struggles they experience seem to have a ripple effect that can quickly reverberate across their teams.

When teams perceived their leader had low resilience, overall team performance fell by -23%.

Leaders with low cognitive agility — the ability to shift perspective and see the world not through black and white — had on average teams with 29% lower agility themselves.

A lack of strategic thinking, a hallmark for top managers, impacted team innovation by as much as -23%.

And unsurprisingly, leaders with low emotional regulation, the ability to exert control over one's own emotional state, lost the trust and respect of their teams. Manager net promoter score tanked by -20%. 

Why it matters

Organizations must recognize that managers are the lynchpin of an engaged, productive, and effective workforce. They exert strong influence — either positive or negative — over key dimensions of the employee experience. When a manager isn’t doing a great job leading, the entire team suffers. And if you multiply that by the number of teams across your org, the impact grows exponentially.

What it all boils down to, is that managers need support. 

Personalized leadership coaching has been proven to help managers improve or develop key leadership skills. And it’s an investment that pays dividends. 

For example, managers who receive coaching to build resilience saw a 31% increase in team performance, a 9% increase in team innovation, and a 52% decrease in burnout. When organizations see increased resilience in their managers and teams, it boosts their bottom line. On average, they experience 3.2 times greater year-over-year revenue growth and a 60% increase in five-year revenue growth.

The number of challenges facing managers increases every year and shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, our world continues to move faster. Left to cope on their own, struggling managers not only underperform themselves, but bring their entire teams down.

Strong companies are built by strong leaders. To overcome obstacles now and in the future, managers must be given the support they need to develop key leadership qualities. Only then will they be able to lead their teams, and by extension their organizations, to success.


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Published November 17, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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