What Employees Really Want From Their Managers

I used to think managers needed to be likable, charismatic and extroverted to be considered great managers. In other words, I thought great managers also needed to be great friends to their employees. After all, people want to work with those they like, right?

Not necessarily.

Friendliness is great, but it turns out that most employees already have friends. They get that fix from other places. As a manager, you don’t need to fill the role of friend to your employee. Rather, you need to fill the role of…wait for it…manager.

Being a great manager doesn’t mean being extroverted, charismatic and extremely likeable. It doesn’t mean spending time with employees on weekends or playing in the company basketball league together. Of course, there is nothing wrong with genuine friendship between manager and employee. It’s nice to have but it’s not essential.

There is one thing, however, that is essential—a common attribute that puts the personable and not-so personable managers in the same category of greatness. That one thing is clarity. Clarity is the single most enabling resource a manager can give an employee. With it, employees are motivated and invigorated. Without it, they are confused and frustrated.

Just imagine if every corporate employee could make the following statements with a straight face:

  • I know what is expected of me at work
  • I know how to be successful at my company
  • I know where I stand at my organization
  • I know how my work fits into the greater goals of the organization

The ability to make such statements is the fruit of clarity. And the responsibility for providing clarity to an employee falls squarely on the shoulders of his or her direct manager.

Here’s four easy ways to ensure that you are being crystal clear to those you manage:

Quit it with the vague statements.

Scrutinize what you say. Many managers inadvertently make statements that basically mean nothing, like:

“I just want to make sure we’re really thinking this through.”

“Let’s dig deeper and make sure that we feel good about this.”

“In order to win, we’re going to have to think differently about this business.”

“We’ve got to make sure we’re really buttoned up on this, team!”

Can someone please tell me what employees are supposed to do with these comments other than go back to their desks and try to decipher the meaning of their managers’ statements?

If you want your employees to do something, then tell them. Be specific.

Never assign tasks without explaining their purpose and success criteria

In a fast-paced corporate environment, it’s easy for managers to simply rattle off assignments to their employees with little or no explanation. This is a great way to 1) make employees feel like unimportant cogs in a machine, and 2) get inferior results. You should always explain to your employee why the assigned task is important and how it relates to the bigger goals of the organization. In addition, you should clearly define success for the task. This isn’t micromanaging; your employee can decide how to complete the assignment, but he or she shouldn’t have any question of what good looks like.

Provide specific deadlines for completion of assignments

Some managers neglect to give a deadline, assuming that the employee will get an assignment done as soon as he or she can. This just leads to frustration when something is “late” in the manager’s view. It’s best to agree to a deadline up front.

Schedule regular 1 on 1 check-ins and don’t cancel them

The 1 on 1 meeting is the best forum to make sure that your employee is working on the right things. It’s also an opportunity for managers to answer questions and provide additional clarity where needed. Do not cancel these meetings unless it is a true emergency. Few things are more discouraging than having a manager cancel 1 on 1 meetings multiple times.


As you increase your clarity as a manager, your team will be more productive and less frustrated. Confidence among your direct reports will increase, as well as your employee retention rate. And most importantly, you’ll get the one thing you want from your employees: results.

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