Author Archives: Jeff Lugerner

Best Practices: Enhancing the Manager/Direct Report Relationship

We have noticed a trending in the last 5 years between managers and their direct reports that concerns us a great deal. Managers have become less accessible, conduct fewer staff meetings, schedule infrequent one-on-ones and communicate downward less and less. We believe this growing trend is being driven by three particular things: managers being asked to manage and be individual contributors, more matrixed organizations that require significant cross functional collaboration and thus a greater time allotment and managers not being acknowledged or rewarded enough for developing their people.

This is not an attempt to bash managers but rather an explanation for what has distracted them away from best practices for the manager/direct report relationship. Managers are literally in the middle between the demands being placed on them by their leaders and the responsibility of managing a team.

So what outcomes do we see due to this dilemma? In our executive coaching and team development work we see less “bench strength” being developed in organizations, fewer career path discussions taking place and diminishing morale as people begin to feel more like worker bees than employees who are making a contribution that has an impact on the organization.  The only way managers can get back to enhancing their relationships with their team members is too make a greater commitment to making development a priority.

Carve out the time on your calendar and don’t cancel time with your people/ team unless the building is burning down or you have a million dollar deal on the table! The ultimate “you are not important’ message gets sent to your reports when you cancel meetings with them on a regular basis or don’t schedule them at all.  While it may seem harmless at the moment that you decide to cancel a one-on-one when you certainly have other important things you need to accomplish, the consequences are further reaching than it might appear at first glance.

Our list below of best practices, while not comprehensive, is certainly a good start back on the road to building that very important manager/direct report relationship.


  • Carve out time on a weekly basis 30-60 minutes, to meet for coaching/mentoring.  This is your highest priority.  Don’t ever cancel unless someone is sick.
  • Together, with your employee, identify strengths and skill gaps.
  • Together create a development plan.
  • Encourage, navigate, help them win.
  • Provide constructive feedback on a regular basis.
  • Ask questions.  (“Tell me what motivates you?” “How can we make our team meetings more effective?”)


  • Tell them what they’re doing well.
  • Provide them with challenges and responsibility in line with their ability.
  • Give recognition for initiative and personal responsibilities taken on.
  • Provide learning opportunities.
  • Create opportunities for the employee to provide leadership by helping others overcome a challenge.


  • Find out what they need from you to be successful.
  • Let people know what you expect from them.
  • Tell people when they’ve hit a home run and when they have missed.
  • Keep your people informed of the big picture.
  • Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Be a truth teller who communicates with compassion.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

  • Let people know what they are responsible for.
  • Be clear about what their role is in the organization.
  • Communicate what you see as their highest priorities.
  • Identify the business results they need to generate to be successful.


  • Acknowledging effort beyond normal day to day responsibilities.
  • Recognizing team collaboration over individual effort.
  • Finding out how your people like to be recognized.

Our experience tells us that with a little time and effort spent developing your employees, employee retention will be at an all-time high, morale will increase and you will develop a loyal following as your people learn that you are invested in their success.

What Is Leadership Versatility?

In our earlier post we mentioned our work with Kaplan and Kaiser the authors of the book The Versatile Leader. Today we would like to open up for discussion the concept of leadership versatility.

From our perspective leadership versatility is the capability to flex as needed on a pair of opposing leadership virtues. We work with leaders to aspire to versatility in a two-sided sense. For example being direct and respectful of people’s feelings or if you are a team leader who doesn’t hesitate to provide direction can you remember to perform the complementary function of asking for other’s input?

All of us over time develop a bias and hence a preferred behavior or mindset that would impact the examples above. We tend to then either over-use and/or under-utilize those leadership behaviors. This translates to leaders getting out of balance and in some cases “lopsided”. “Lopsidedness” occurs when a leader combines extreme over-use of one strength in combination with the complete disregard for it’s leadership opposite. The classic example is someone who is very strategic/visionary and on the flip side pays no attention to how their vision will get operationalized. In a very real sense the dominant preference crowds out the weaker side.

So here is an exercise to try on right now. Think about your very preferred ways of leading…a list of one word adjectives. Follow that up with identifying the complementary opposite of each of those preferred behaviors.
Take note of how long/hard it is for you to come up with the opposites. More importantly ask yourself how frequently do you call on these non-preferred behaviors in your leadership role?

When we are coaching we frequently ask our clients to think “volume control”. The idea is to get the “volume” right, for example, neither pushing too hard nor not hard enough.

In our next post we’ll talk about strategies/tools to bring more versatility to your leadership.
We’re interested in your thoughts on this subject so please be in touch.

Jeff and Karen