9 Research-Backed Manager Roles to Master

puzzle pieces showing various Manager Roles to Master


What Are the Manager Roles to Master?
For almost three decades we have asked employees to describe their best and worst bosses to help determine what sets a great manager apart from the pack.  Based upon the data, we believe that the most effective managers excel at the hundreds of daily interactions and decisions that get the best out of their people in a way that makes sense to both the company and the people.

The best managers uncover what is truly unique about each person on their team and then do a masterful job across varied situations of balancing the sometimes-conflicting needs of customers, employees, leaders, shareholders, partners, and regulators.  In short, the best managers create the right environment – the strategy and the culture – to set their team up for success.

Role and Purpose of Manager
Today’s best managers create an environment that encourages their employees to develop their own strengths, contribute effectively to the common goal, and work with team mates so that the whole is greater than its parts.  They know the manager roles to master.

The best managers enable their direct reports to perform at the peak of their abilities in order to achieve or exceed the goals of the team.  How?  By operating in the following manager roles to master:

1. Manager as a Strategic Compass
First and foremost, effective managers set a clear, compelling, and shared path forward that defines how individual and team success will be measured, what 3-5 team and individual priorities matter most, and how both team and individual contributions tie directly into the overall corporate strategy for success. The path forward also includes methods to monitor progress and recalibrate as things change.

Strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing managers.  You will know your managers are headed in the right direction strategically when the team’s plan for success is:

  • Understood and articulated by all team members
  • Consistently implemented across the team
  • Perceived as implementable in your unique culture and circumstances
  • Supported by the right level of resources to execute it

2. Manager as a Cultural Champion
Once a shared path forward has been created, the best managers then define clear expectations about “how” the work needs to get done in a meaningful way. How work gets done (your workplace culture) can either help or hinder the implementation of your strategy.  The most effective managers ensure that their team’s culture is healthy, accountable, and aligned with the plans for success.

Your workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing managers.  You will know your managers are headed in the right direction culturally when the team’s cultural norms are:

  • Simple, emotional, authentic, and personal
  • Consistently modeled by the manager and team members – especially high performers
  • Formally and informally measurable
  • Explicitly aligned to move the desired business outcomes forward
  • Clear about what constitutes both success and failure

3. Manager as Talent Magnet
The most effective managers know how to attract, engage and retain the talent required to be successful. They think of talent as the key asset that they need to nurture. Ensure you’re your managers know how to hire the right talent that fits, provide relevant opportunities for learning and growth, and proactively build their talent pipeline.

You will know your managers are headed in the right direction from a talent perspective when they:

  • Retain most of their team
  • Ensure their direct reports have the skills, knowledge, and resources to be successful
  • Have a team that consistently makes the extra effort in their jobs.
  • Can show that 75% or more of their team meets or exceeds performance targets

4. Manager as Role Model
The best managers lead by example and set the standard for the team. They do what they say they are going to do; they adhere to the highest ethical guidelines; they get the job done even when extra time and effort is required; they are open to ideas for improvement; and they own up to mistakes when they make them.  After all, they should model the way they want their team to behave.

5. Manager as Great Communicator
Perhaps communicator is the most critical of roles since all other manager personifications devolve from a manager’s ability to communicate well across all levels and in all settings. Our Organizational Alignment Research found that the timely and free flow of information is one of the top five most important ingredients required to create high performance.  Accordingly, managers need to be able to connect regularly with their team members to understand what makes them tick and to keep them up to date on what matters most.

One-on-ones are vital to staying connected with individual employees and essential to effectively managing performance.  By the same token, managers need to develop and maintain larger networks across the company.  In this way the team can coordinate its activities with other teams so they can operate across organizational boundaries.

6. Manager as Coach
Employee who receive frequent and consistent performance coaching from their managers outperform their peers 4-to-1. The best managers understand what their employees aspire to and what skills they’ll need to perform and to realize their career objectives.  They invest the time to assess the needs, skills and interests of their employees and offer targeted feedback to support their growth.

And, if the manager is not expert in the areas the employees need, they help make a connection to a colleague who can support them.

7. Manager as Champion of Learning
Rather than function as the type of supervisor who micromanages a team’s multiple activities, the best managers know how to delegate. They assign tasks so that employees are challenged to develop their own thinking and decision making.  They provide opportunities for employees to become the best they can be.  A wise manager knows that success depends not upon a manager’s ability to control but upon their ability to develop their team members to perform at their peak.

8. Manager as Innovator
The best managers are not content with the status quo. They reflect upon how things can be done better and are open to new approaches and ideas.  They oversee the team’s output and, as such, are challenged to discover new and better ways to grow, and to reimagine what’s been done before.  Continuous improvement becomes a way of working.

9. Manager as Arbiter and Advocate
Great managers do not treat all direct reports equally; they treat them fairly. They disproportionately reward high performers and proportionately deliver consequences to low performers.  They don’t play favorites and are always ready to support their employees when they need help.

You will know your managers are headed in the right direction if team members trust that their manager has their back.

The Bottom Line
As you take on the mantle of manager, aspire to the redefined role of manager as someone who sets the direction, models the way, loves learning and teaching, encourages innovative thinking and open communication, and challenges their team to perform at their peak.  Be sure you understand the manager roles to master.

To learn more about how to succeed as a manager, download The Top 4 High Performing Management Metrics That Matter Most

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