Gallup’s Profound Discovery: Engagement Is Driven By Good Managers With Rare Talents

Searching For Talent “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

 – Schopenhauer

It’s been nearly three years since Gallup announced its stunning finding that engagement in the American workplace had fallen to crisis levels.

In what became the shot heard ‘round the world in business, the research firm revealed that 70% of the nation’s working population admits to being disengaged in their jobs (i.e., content with collecting a paycheck while investing little of their hearts in their work) – and that nearly 1 in every 5 workers is so discontent that they’re perversely motivated to undermine the effectiveness of their bosses and organizations.

All of this profound unhappiness has a primary source, of course, and organizations across the land have scurried to create taskforces, introduce employee satisfaction metrics and experiment with innumerable strategies in their efforts at finding it.  Like any problem decades-long in the making, however, no new programs or organization-wide themes are likely to prove effective at creating a sustainable solution. (For proof of this, we only need to look at where engagement is in 2017.  The needle has barely moved).

I’ve always believed, of course, that our shared engagement problem is the direct result of ineffective – even destructive – leadership.  More specifically, I’ve shown that human beings have greatly evolved what they need and want in exchange for their committed efforts at work, while our traditional managerial practices have failed to keep up.

Last fall, Gallup helped confirm this assessment when their research revealed that too many people in supervisory roles today, across all industries, lack the requisite ability to manage.  Their important revelation was that employee engagement in the 21st Century is largely dependent upon having a good manager.

In a series of discussions I’ve since had with Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Research Scientist, I’ve learned there are five specific talents that characterize the most effective and influential workplace leaders.

The direct and immediate take-away is that some people are naturally imbued with qualities and talents that virtually preordain their leadership success.  The surest way of restoring high engagement, therefore, is to only select people with these traits into all future managerial roles.

Managers, Not Organizations, Drive Engagement

“We’ve long had the understanding in business,” Harter told me, “that organizations have an overriding culture – one that’s either highly engaged or not.  But when we mapped engagement data down to the team level, we started noticing that engagement – and all performance metrics – varied widely.  Our discovery was that culture varies by team.  When we got under the hood a little bit, it became more obvious that whatever was happening with a team was directly related to its manager and to the tone they were setting.”

Managers Are Too Often Chosen For The Wrong Reasons

It’s simply undeniable that managers directly affect people’s lives and how they feel about their jobs and organizations,” stresses Harter.  “But what we’ve seen over the years is that many organizations haven’t given a lot of attention to selecting managers based on their talents, and that just means they’re left with a random distribution of engagement team-to-team.”

Gallup now estimates that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in engagement scores – a direct reminder of what’s at stake every time a new manager is chosen.   Nevertheless, people are predominantly given management positions as rewards for long tenure (often because it’s the only road to higher pay), or because they were successful in a prior job entirely unrelated to management.  “I would call decisions like this one of the biggest missed opportunities since modern-day organizations have been around,” says Harter.

The Talents Required To Be A Good Manager Are Extremely Rare

The famous question of whether great leaders are made or born seems to now have a conclusive answer.  Gallup believes some people come into the world pre-wired with a rare combination of talents (naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors) that enables them as managers to instinctively engage employees, build loyalty and drive high performance.

Gallup has an assessment tool that diagnoses whether someone has all of the talents required to be a great manager.  Out of the 300,000 people who’ve taken it so far, only 10 percent had all five “extreme” talents:

  1. They individually motivate and inspire employees to take action.
  2. They assertively drive outcomes and successfully maneuver through adversity and resistance.
  3. They create a culture of clear accountability.
  4. They build relationships anchored by trust, full transparency and advocacy.
  5.  They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

The research indicates that another 20% of the population has more moderate levels of these talents.  Through training and coaching, they’re also assured of attaining a very high level of performance.

If you’re wondering about the prospects of the other 70% becoming excellent managers, the news isn’t too encouraging.  “While people, of course, do learn and change, without the inherent talents needed as a foundation,” Harter says, “succeeding as a manager will always be a kind of a struggle – an uphill battle.”

How These Talents Translate Into Behaviors

If you’re trying to determine whether you have the talents of a truly great manager – or want to learn how to identify one during your hiring process – you should know that they not only behave differently, they instinctively lead with both mind and heart.

Here are five ways great managers translate their talents into practices, inspiring uncommon commitment and productivity along the way.

1.    They’re Results Oriented While Concurrently Focused On Developing Every Worker

As a means of inspiring loyalty and high achievement, they demonstrate a consistent commitment to every person’s professional growth and expansion.  Rather than use training opportunities as a reward – or delay them until a campaign’s goals are met – they intentionally seek to accelerate the competency and growth of every employee while simultaneously driving performance.  Generous, and with an abundance mindset, they willingly share their own hard-earned expertise and know-how.  They understand that by pro-actively developing people, they inherently build the self-confidence that enables them to scale new heights.

2.    They Intentionally Give Employees A Voice In Decision Making

Seeking to ensure employees feel deeply committed to the team’s mission and tactics, they take time to solicit their feedback – even guidance.  Having an orientation like this requires higher levels of self-esteem, an inclination to be inclusive – not to mention an ability to manage without full command and control.  But the payback from all of this pulse-taking and transparency is a soaring of engagement and trust.  People feel heard and valued, and ultimately treat the success of the business as if they were owners.

3.    They Ensure People Feel Connected And Know How Their Work Contributes To The Team And Organization.

When workers become deeply disengaged and dispirited in their jobs, one consistent contributing factor is the belief that the work they do every day has no real meaning.  But highly effective managers fully understand that all human beings need to know that their work matters and has significance.  Consequently, they make a practice of reminding employees of the importance of their work and how it directly connects to the teams’ and organization’s success.  Their goal is to ensure no one goes home at the end of the week without knowing that all of their efforts and contributions truly made a difference.

4.    They Routinely Make People Feel Valued And Appreciated – Even Nurtured

Feeling valued is essential to the well-being of all people and to the spirit which motivates performance.  Many managers, to their detriment, often disregard how important this is to people, how it inspires and why it’s so essential to sustaining high performance.  Because it’s human nature to want to do more of anything that gets acknowledged and appreciated, the best managers set aside time at regular and known intervals to thank and praise their people for all performance that meets or exceeds expectations.

5.    They’re Deeply Caring About The Well-Being Of Every Person They Lead

One characteristic of great managers that accentuates their inherent uniqueness is their motivation to make a meaningful difference in their employees’ lives.  They authentically care about seeing their people thrive and succeed, and get to know and understand them individually.  They learn their personal stories – and are deeply motivated to ensure their unique needs and aspirations are met.  They also seem to intuitively understand the truth in the late poet Maya Angelou’s insight: “A leader sees greatness in other people.  You can’t be a great leader if all you see is yourself.”


If it’s not already apparent, the most effective managers seek to influence employees in ways we’ve traditionally believed were soft and even weak in business.  They build personal relationships with their people, advocate for their growth – and routinely ensure they feel valued, respected and cared for.  Just the idea that they want to make a difference in other people’s lives is a colossal change in our shared leadership paradigm.

Were you to ask any of the people known-to-be disengaged in their jobs today (67% of our society) what they felt was missing at work, it’s almost assured to be some if not all of the things I just mentioned.

So, just imagine what it would be like if every manager in the American workplace shared these same traits and talents.  Just think how much greater human potential could be released.  One sure hint to the outcome:  Gallup has confirmed that great managers contribute 48 percent higher profits than average ones.

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.