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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

Middle managers just as critical as senior leaders

Q: One of the key findings the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey is that worker satisfaction is more profoundly affected by perceptions of top management than by their immediate supervisor. What lessons can top leaders in the public and private sector glean from this?

This year's Best Places to Work in federal government survey finds that top leadership has a stronger impact on worker satisfaction than immediate supervisors. At the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), however, various research projects over the years confirm that immediate supervisors also have a major influence on employee satisfaction and engagement.

Most recently, a study CCL conducted in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton revealed that among workers who strongly agreed that they work for a manager who cares about their well-being, 94 percent said they intend to stay with their current employer. Of those who strongly disagreed that their manager cared about their well-being, just 43 percent planned to stick around.

Additionally, data from CCL's Lessons of Experience research project, which started in the 1980s, has documented the powerful impact that immediate bosses have on the satisfaction - and, ultimately, the development and retention - of employees.

But rather than spending too much time debating which level of management matters most in furthering employee satisfaction, we are perhaps wiser to remember this instead: the most effective way to keep our men and women engaged and satisfied over the long term is to improve the quality of managers at every level of our organizations.

An in-depth study CCL did with leaders in the U.S, Singapore and India from 2006 to 2008 determined the four most important leadership skills for the future: 1) leading people, which means knowing how to direct and motivate them; 2) strategic planning, defined as the ability to translate vision into realistic business strategies; 3) inspiring commitment, which involves recognizing and rewarding employee achievements; and 4) managing change, which calls for adapting to new external pressures and helping employees do the same. It turns out that most of today's managers are not adept at these four skills, creating what we call the "leadership gap."

Closing that gap calls for developing these four skills with leaders throughout our organizations, from top leadership all the way down to first-time managers. When that happens, employee satisfaction will flourish and organizations will accelerate their strategy and results.

By John R. Ryan

 |  August 31, 2010; 10:59 AM ET
Category:  A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The findings sound like some academic's theory of an idea they heard someplace. In the real world, employees appreciated competence in their managers. Those 4 items mentioned are too nebulous. Believe me, if the manager is a great cheerleader for change, but can't keep the worker's supplies in stock, and can't manage day to day schedules, and can't arrange for fair leave and fair training opportunities, the manager is worthless. Nuts and bolts are as important as 'vision' and 'managing change'.

Posted by: kamdog | September 1, 2010 7:40 AM
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