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7 essential talents of effective managers

6 min read


Forget state-of-the-art IT systems and over-the-top marketing campaigns. Often, the secret to improving a company’s productivity and skyrocketing its growth lies in its people — more specifically, the managers who understand the organization’s vision, motivate their teams and make things happen.

And research supports this statement: A study conducted by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business found that replacing a poor manager with a high-performing one boosted team productivity by 12%. Separately, in the case of a large U.S. manufacturing firm, managers who demonstrated strong communication skills and encouraged innovation and career development yielded a 50%  increase in sales.

Based on these numbers, organizations can’t afford not to invest in management development, especially in times of trouble or opportunity. “You have to find the pain,” said Michele Isaacs, vice president of talent and development at Thomson Reuters. “You have to think, ‘What is the problem with the organization that I can help solve by developing capabilities?'”

After analyzing more than 100 peer-reviewed studies, a team of psychologists at Mind Gym identified seven core talents that set good managers apart from the rest. Now, these seven talents make up the core of management development programs within some of the world’s leading companies.

If you want to take your skills to the next level — or implement a powerful management development program at your organization — focus your attention on these seven talents:


  • Definition: Build strong relationships with team members. Those relationships determine how teams perform and how they interpret and respond to their managers.
  • Impact: This talent stands out above the rest because it affects the other six talents. Team members who have good relationships with their managers perform better, are more innovative, and are better at responding to feedback.
  • How to hone this talent: Be clear about what the team is here to do. Go beyond goals — establish a team purpose and identity to inspire people. At the same time, set boundaries. Appropriate relationships require a balance between being too friendly and too distant.


  • Definition: Guide and enable team members to grow and become the best they can be.
  • Impact: The Stanford study also showed that the single most important difference between poor and great managers is how much they coach their teams. Research has found that managers who coach can contribute to a 12% increase in productivity, 21% higher revenue, and an estimated 700% return on investment within their organizations.
  • How to hone this talent: Find motivation in the long-term benefits of coaching. Believe in your team and their potential for growth. Foster a learning environment, ask insightful questions, give specific feedback and note progress and successes.


  • Definition: Exude positivity, hope, and passion.
  • Impact: Energized teams are creative, collaborative, efficient, and better at problem-solving. And positive energy spreads through organizations, increasing and multiplying performance throughout.
  • How to hone this talent: Tap into the five “Ps”: Purpose (help your team visualize the ideal outcome); passion (be authentic, optimistic and engaging); present (tune into what’s happening now); positivity (provide affirmation and hope); and progress (celebrate the mini-milestones).


  • Definition: Good managers are “innovation nourishers” who develop a community and culture of innovation through practical steps and attitudinal shifts.
  • Impact: A culture of innovation allows teams to explore, connect, and experiment. In turn, new discoveries and efficiencies help push the organization forward.
  • How to hone this talent: Build innovation time into your team’s week. Welcome all ideas and help shape them into something viable. Test, experiment and revise plans, and then if it makes sense, put those plans into action.


  • Definition: Thriving is all about high vitality and growth. Organizations need to provide managers with the tools to take control of their well-being and the time to get re-energized.
  • Impact: When managers are recharging and thriving, they are more productive and satisfied, and they also encourage their teams to follow suit.
  • How to hone this talent: Choose your thoughts carefully — a positive mindset and self-compassion are key. Notice what’s made you feel good in the past and make it part of your life moving forward. Surround yourself with supportive people, create good habits and build connections with others.


  • Definition: Leadership research supports a management style that mobilizes people towards common, collaborative goals. Good managers communicate the company vision and set a clear direction.
  • Impact: According to a study by McKinsey, clear direction is one of three factors that drives superior business performance (the other two are accountability and a culture of trust).
  • How to hone this talent: Share the organizational vision in a way that employees can understand it, make it their own and truly believe in it. Constantly shift perspectives so you have a full view of where your team is going—everything from the big picture to the small details.


  • Definition: Good managers have the ability to effectively execute. They deliver on time and meet (or exceed) expectations.
  • Impact: Top companies want managers who have the ability to execute. Being able to follow through and deliver on goals is necessary for an organization to make progress and succeed.
  • How to hone this talent: Find your focus so you can use your time and energy wisely. There’s a difference between being busy and getting things done. Set up an accountability system for your team, and take responsibility for your actions, too.

Whether an organization is struggling or thriving, management development programs have a major impact on productivity, innovation and the bottom line.

Case in point: In 2013, Unilever established a management development program centered on the seven core talents and designed for a specific audience of managers. “Clearly it’s important to invest in your big-bet talent, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your wider population,” said Nick Pope, former global learning director at Unilever. “It’s important to provide these development opportunities to everyone.”

Three months later, the company surveyed a selection of those who had completed the program. The results? 100% of respondents said they learned new knowledge and skills, and 96% had successfully applied those new skills to their jobs. They believed the program was a worthwhile investment (100%) and that it improved their performance (90.5%) and engagement (82.5%).

Fostering these seven talents positively impacts employee productivity, retention and revenue, all factors that have a meaningful impact on managers’ career growth and your company’s bottom line.

Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home. His newest book, “Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently,” was released in September 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Bailey on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

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