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5 tactics for managing managers effectively — and why it matters

October 13, 2022 - 13 min read
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    More is expected of managers than ever before. 

    After all, the workplace is constantly evolving. The last few years alone have emphasized the need to support employees holistically. But when it comes to supporting the whole employee, managers have a lot of responsibility. 

    So, from a leadership perspective, managing managers is more important than ever. Yet it’s still a hard nut to crack. Managers of managers have high expectations and big shoes to fill. But it’s not enough to rely on management skills alone to reach higher levels of performance. 

    Our data shows that managers have an incredible influence on team performance. If teams perceive their leader has low resilience, team performance decreases by 23%. Likewise, if leaders have low cognitive agility, direct reports’ cognitive agility lowers by 29%. And lastly, if there’s a lack of strategic thinking from a leader, it can impact team innovation by as much as 23%. 

    What does this mean? The way your organization manages managers matters. In this post, we’ll talk about what it means to manage managers. We’ll also talk about how to effectively manage teams of managers — and how to overcome common challenges. 


    Managing managers vs. managing individual contributors

    It’s no secret that every organization wants to empower high-performing teams to succeed. At the heart of it, much of an organization’s success depends on its people. There’s a difference between managing a team of leaders versus managing individual contributors. Let’s break it down. 

    Managers are often embedded in strategic planning, big-picture thinking, and other aspects of higher-level problem-solving. Managers are also leading other team members, meaning they’re juggling things like balancing workloads, and effectively capitalizing on their team member's skills and the personal aspects that inherently come with being a manager. 

    This means that the problems they tend to face go a level deeper than compared to individual contributors. Managing managers means that your guidance, leadership, and direction have a wider impact. From managing conflict to building relationships, managing managers is a whole different ball game than a team of individual contributors. 

    Especially if a manager is managing a first-time manager, it can take special attention. A new manager is learning the ropes of what it takes to be a leader. They’re facing new problems for the first time, learning their management style, and getting a feel for the management role. 

    For the leader of that first-time manager, it means that attention, awareness, and support are more important than ever. Learning how to become a manager is just that — a lot of learning.

    First-time managers are inherently prone to making mistakes in their own leadership journey. For a senior manager in this type of relationship, it requires additional support, coaching, and training. The impact spreads beyond just the direct report. It has the potential to impact the entire team.  

    Let’s not dismiss the importance of managing individual contributors. Managing individual contributors well can unlock employee engagement, morale, performance, and more. 

    But it’s a bit different than managing managers. Because individual contributors generally are responsible for their own workloads, the impact is reserved for the manager-employee relationship. 

    Download The Connection Crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work

    3 benefits of effectively managing managers

    If you’re managing managers effectively, the benefits speak for themselves. Here are three benefits of effectively managing managers. 

    Increased team performance 

    People management, as mentioned, has an incredible influence on team performance. But when managers are supported well and thrive, teams benefit. 

    Our data shows that managers who are thriving and receive coaching to build resilience saw a 31% increase in team performance. Likewise, teams increased innovation by 9% and decreased burnout by 52%. Overall, the bottom line of your organization benefits when managers of managers are well supported. 

    Better connections and relationships 

    Great managers are also great at making and facilitating connections. Oftentimes, it’s the manager or leader that helps to strengthen connections within the organization. 

    BetterUp Labs studied the impact of connections on the workplace. When managers have high social connections, teams thrive. When leaders make social connections an organizational priority, performance, productivity, and well-being go up. As a result, employee retention increases. 

    Increased mental fitness 

    At BetterUp, we talk a lot about building a mentally fit workforce. It’s a proactive approach (as opposed to reactive) to unlocking the potential of your employees. And when it comes down to leaders, it has an incredible impact. 

    In fact, mentally fit leaders who are thriving lead teams that are 31% more productive. They also have direct reports who are 78% less likely to leave voluntarily. Ultimately, it results in a more resilient, mentally fit, and satisfied team. 

    JLL, a BetterUp customer, talks about how coaching has provided their leaders with the skills they need to succeed. 

    5 necessary skills for managing managers

    Every leader is capable of building the skills they need to succeed. Here are just some of the necessary skills for managing managers. 

    1. Active listening 

    For any leader or employee, active listening skills are a must-have. It’s critical that managers of managers fully understand the problems, roadblocks, and strategies that their team members are coming across. 

    2. Strategic planning and decision-making skills 

    Strategic thinking and decision-making tend to go hand-in-hand. In order to fully utilize big-picture thinking, leaders must be strategic and future-minded. 

    But beyond strategy alone, leaders have to make often challenging decisions about where priorities lie. This requires a new type of decision-making process in management that calls on key decision-making competencies. 

    3. Agility and resilience 

    Change is here to stay. Especially in leadership roles, change is also constant. This means that at some point in a leader’s career, they will have to put on a change management hat to help reach their teams’ goals. 

    It’s incredibly important that managers of managers build their resilience and agility. The pace at which change comes is only accelerating. Uncertainty and unknown still loom ahead. It’s important to learn how you can navigate change with resilience and grace. 

    4. Communication skills 

    Leaders can have the best strategies, team goals, and decisions. But without effective communication skills, it’s not going to have an impact. 

    Communication skills are a must-have for any employee but especially those in leadership roles. Without it, teams risk losing direction, clarity, and engagement. 

    5. Inclusive leadership skills 

    Leaders need to invest in building a sense of belonging for their teams. Inclusive leadership is foundational to any successful organization. 

    At BetterUp, we’ve studied the impact of inclusive leadership on teams. In fact, we’ve found that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.

    5 tips for effectively managing managers

    If you’re not sure where to start, here are five tips for effectively managing managers. 

    1. Build trust and psychological safety

    If we think about employee needs parallel to Maslow’s pyramid, trust and psychological safety are foundational. 

    Think of ways you can build trust with your leadership team. Trust often trickles down from the top — and it’s important that your leaders lead by example.  

    2. Invest in your leadership coaching skills 

    Coaching your team to success is a key skill for managers of managers. To invest in your coaching skills is an investment in your people. 

    There’s a difference between being a leader vs. being a manager. Leaders know how to effectively use coaching as a skill to help unlock the potential in their employees. 

    3. Spend time getting to know your team members 

    We live in a world where employees are showing up as their whole selves to work. Our personal and work lives are more blurred together than ever before. And we know that what happens outside of our 9-5 impacts how we show up in our work day. 

    Get to know your team as human beings. It’s a simple yet often overlooked component of effective team management. 


    4. Offer professional development and learning opportunities 

    First and foremost, every employee deserves the opportunity to flex into new skills, learn, and grow. But if you’re leading a team of leaders, it’s that much more important to make sure you’re keeping your employees motivated, engaged, and challenged. 

    For many organizations, this means investing in professional development and learning opportunities for managers to hone their skills. Consider ways you can keep your people managers on their edge. For example, access to virtual coaching can help provide personalized learning support to your team. Or you might offer things like conferences, workshops, or other learning opportunities. 

    5. Practice future-mindedness

    Last but certainly not learn, practice future-mindedness. The future of work is a hazy one. We’re living in quite a bit of uncertainty, unknown, and constant change. 

    For leaders, this means that a sense of optimism and pragmatism is more important than ever. Adopting a future-mindedness to these uncertainties can only benefit your workforce in the long run. 

    Future-minded leaders have higher-performing teams. increased agility, and team engagement. Teams with future-minded leaders are also more innovative, perform better, and have higher levels of resilience.

    Common pitfalls when managing managers

    As any leader knows, being a manager comes with its fair share of challenges. Here are some common pitfalls when it comes to managing managers. 

    • Micromanaging
    • Conflict management 
    • Gaps in communication or lack of clarity 
    • Misaligned goals 

    Start managing managers effectively 

    Whether you’re stepping into a new role managing managers or simply looking for ways to enhance your own team’s performance, BetterUp can help. 

    The way you manage your people matters. And your team of managers needs support to be able to do their jobs well and thrive in the workplace.


    Published October 13, 2022

    Madeline Miles

    Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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