As an executive coach, I’ve found that the biggest mistake a manager can make is failing to keep individual team members engaged. Most managers are competent at driving the team to achieve results, but what separates the good managers from the great is the latter’s ability to create a path for growth for each individual on their team. Research by Gallup indicates that managers account for 70 percent of their employee engagement levels and those who maximize engagement can see an increase in productivity, profitability and satisfaction. Managers who fail to do this, however, are often left with unfulfilled team members who are more likely to leave the company.

Here are four key steps managers can take to better understand and engage their team:


Managers need to understand the natural talents, strengths, and needs of each person on their team. What happens in many companies is that people are assigned to projects based on their availability rather than their strengths.

To maximize engagement, managers need to consider how each person can contribute to a project and whether or not he or she is in a position to excel. If someone is naturally adept at developing innovative ideas, is there room for creative thinking within the project or is the plan already determined? If someone has the ability to be a sparkplug and help the team move into action, is there the opportunity to share this strength or are they stuck in a naturally slow-moving project? If someone has the ability to masterfully take ownership of a project, are they being put in a position to do this or will they only be able to follow someone else’s lead?


According to Gallup, only 50 percent of employees are clear on their role, which means that managers need to help their direct reports understand their specific responsibilities and their path for growth. High performers want to continuously improve and take on new challenges. They need to feel that they are growing and being given the opportunity to apply their strengths, skills and knowledge. When they feel this is no longer happening they may start looking for other opportunities elsewhere.

It’s up to the manager to clearly communicate the goals for the team, explain why each individual on the team matters, and solicit feedback from each person to understand how things are going.


Feedback is critical for people to learn, improve, and grow into better leaders—there is no substitute for it. The challenge for managers is determining how and when to give it.

Too many managers rarely speak to their direct reports unless there is a problem. Don’t be afraid to speak to your team and let them know what’s working well and what can be improved. (Millennials, for example, prefer continuous feedback rather than annual or bi-annual reviews, which too many companies use). And make sure to give positive to negative feedback in a 2:1 ratio rather than giving critical feedback only.

It’s also important to understand that feedback is a two-way street—meaning that managers can give feedback to the team and the team can give feedback to others and the manager. In an interview with Tony Robbins, the co-founder of Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal WG10, said that when they were starting their company, they made sure to share continuous feedback so specific areas of conflict would be addressed before they became detrimental to the team. This is a core priority they maintained as they grew their business and it’s been critical to their success.


No one likes being the one to deliver the tough news, such as “You didn’t get the promotion” or “Your work has been under par.” Some managers think it’s better not to communicate a message that may not be well received than to have the undesirable conversation. This can lead to unnecessary team drama, toxic energy, and a breakdown of trust and respect. It’s important to realize that having tough conversations is not good or bad—it’s a natural part of managing. The best managers are able to have the difficult conversations and still maintain a high level of respect from their team.


Being a manager is a complex undertaking. It involves motivating yourself to achieve goals and understanding what drives each person on your team to do the same. Too often, managers make the mistake of only focusing on achieving results and they neglect to keep their team members engaged. As an executive coach, I’ve learned that it’s often hardest to have one without the other.