VIDEO: Turning Good Managers Into Great Ones – Four Tips to Empower Your Management Team

By Danielle Rocheleau

What Happened to my Star Player?

Through our work, we often hear variations of a familiar story. It goes a little like this: a front-line worker with a passion for the work they do and for those they serve, excels at the front line and is rewarded with a promotion into management. Flattered and excited, they jump in (I know I did).

Soon after they start, however, they realize that they miss working directly with clients. They feel left out, overwhelmed with unfamiliar responsibilities, and they struggle with managing those who used to be their peers. They feel alone, like they’re expected to have ‘all the answers’.

They also feel confused by the socialized perspectives of what managers are “supposed to do” – top down, step by step direction, hands in all the details – and often struggle with letting go, setting clear, supportive expectations, and entering into potentially challenging conversations.

Feeling like they have turned from star player to a cynical, frustrated manager, they are reluctant to come forward and ask for help. Instead, they become disengaged with their role and the organization.

Learn How to Set Managers Up for Success

So, what to do then? Ideally, you can set your managers up for success from the beginning. However, if they are already in the role and feeling overwhelmed, you can still help get them back on track. Not only for their wellbeing, but also for the wellbeing of their team and that of the organization as a whole.

Earlier this week, I presented my thoughts on how to help your non-profit managers thrive at ShiftLink’s Simply Shift 2021: Innovations for Healthcare & Social Services online conference.

Watch the video below, or read on to learn more.

What is the difference between Management and Leadership?

Erase your mental image of people in these roles (perhaps even yourself) and think only about the definition of the terms.

Leadership is about strategy and vision.

Leaders establish direction and align people. They do the right things to produce change and point an organization in the right direction. Leaders motivate, inspire, and mentor their people. Great leaders rally people to create a better future.

Management is about execution.

Managers put processes and systems in place to help execute a leader’s vision. They are concerned with solving problems so that things get done. They are focused on doing things right. Great managers work effectively through others to move the organization forward.

“Leaders are focussed on doing the right things. Managers are about doing those things right.”

Source: Buckingham, Marcus. The One Thing You Need to Know.

Both strong leaders and effective managers are important in a successful organization. Typically, the more senior the position, the more likely its requirements are skewed toward leadership.

Most roles with direct reports – from executive directors through to front line supervisors – require a mix of both skill sets. The challenge is to know when to manage and when to lead.

Why are Good Managers Integral to the Success of an Organization?

Strategy, people and systems are the three fundamental building blocks of an organization.

  1. Strategy – defines the purpose and values. WHY.
  2. People – perspectives, abilities, and talents. WHO.
  3. Systems – the tools the organization provides to help people do their jobs effectively. WHAT.

It is the manager’s job to connect these distinct entities in order to generate the most effective output from the division or department.

Qualities of an Organization with Strong Managers

Organizations that have strong managers and management teams, often experience some of the following benefits:

  • Capacity and efficiency across an organization
  • Stability and sustainability
  • Team cohesion and collaboration
  • Highly motivated and engaged workforce
  • Lower turnover
  • Environment for succession planning
  • Quality service delivery & client/patient experience
  • Trusted partnerships with stakeholders and funders
  • Engaged donors, volunteers and supporters
  • Enhanced creativity and innovative problem solving

How do we get there? It’s time for Laridae’s 4 Tips to Great Management

1. Define a vision for the role

At Laridae, we counsel our clients to begin by getting very clear on what you expect of the management role in the first place. Think objectively and critically – again, empty your mind of the people currently in these roles or who may be in line for promotion or hire.


  • Core Competencies – natural abilities, skills, knowledge, experience)
  • Duties and actions – what they do
  • Expected outcomes – what we want them to deliver & what great performance looks like
  • Value of the position – productivity, importance of the role in the organization, compensation
  • Capacity building – potential for growth in their team and for that role

Combine the thinking from the above in a way that clearly states the purpose of the role, its domain and areas to oversee and control, and the accountability and actions that this role will perform.

Voila! The job description is ready.

Finding the right fit for the Manager role

Management is not for everyone. We think we want the promotion, but what we really want is the recognition, or more likely, the bump in pay. So spend time finding the right fit for the role.

Consider that great frontline worker from the intro. If they are so highly valued in place, why we are moving them into another role? Before assuming a move to management is the right move for both the individual and the organization, ask whether it will be possible to reverse the decision if it doesn’t work out? Can you do so without giving the perception that this person has failed? The consequences of this going badly is losing a manager and a great front-line worker, so be sure.

2. Set Out Clear Expectations and Engage in Reciprocal Communication

Remember that job spec you wrote? Those are your expectations. Before finalizing your hire, takes a moment to understand your new-manager-to-be’s expectations as well. Ensure you are on the same page. Be sure that you both know what the role is and what it isn’t.

For example, you need to cover:

  • Organization/team culture – what is in place, how you define it, and what you want them to maintain or influence
  • Management practices and approaches – to ensure consistency, train them on established processes
  • Roles and responsibilities – purpose, domain and accountabilities
  • Outcomes – set goals and clarify how performance will be measured
  • Authority – delegation of authority, reporting structures, communications channels, and related policies, such as no emails after 5pm

Ask them to consider hat kind of manager they want to be – and ask yourself what kind of manager you will be to this person. Gain an understanding of what they will find most difficult about the role. Ask how they will want to receive your help, should they need it.  

3. Set them up for Success

Onboarding a new manager hire is the perfect time to teach them how to connect the strategy, systems, and people at your organization. Did you know that new employees who go through a thoughtful onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years? In other words, if you put some effort into your employee onboarding experience you won’t have to do it as often!

  • Introduce them to the organization’s approaches to managing people, navigating group dynamics, motivating others, having difficult conversations and offering feedback, as well as getting everyone rowing in the same direction. If your organization doesn’t have formal approaches to these essential managerial tasks, ensure your hire knows how you will support them throughout. This could include offering overviews of your experience, or inviting them to shadow you or others in similar scenarios, plus a solid debrief afterward to continuously reinforce the skills and behaviours you expect from them. 
  • Reflect on what they need to know or still have to learn for this management role, and create a plan for how you can provide the information, tools, and training to be effective. This could include formal education, coaching, peer-to-peer mentoring, or other programs designed to build capacity within a new manager. An employee’s relationship with their direct manager is the leading reason why they leave or stay in role. Investing in managers, especially those in lower and mid-level roles, when they are still learning the ropes, is one of the best things you can do for employee retention.
  • Maintain regular check ins and encourage open dialogue. Ensure you’re there to support them with challenges they’re having. No one is born a manager – these are skills we must learn, practice and hone over time. Many new managers experience “imposter syndrome” thinking they need to have all the answers. It’s your job to debunk this!

4. Encourage – and support – autonomy

We know in theory that an effective means of keeping people engaged and motivated is to allow individuals the ability to move through their work, make decisions, and contribute to outcomes their own way. This is easier said than done, especially if you are supporting a manager in a role you once held yourself.

You may find yourself tempted to micromanage by getting in there and showing them how to do everything. Resist!

Instead, focus on the following:

  • Build a culture of trust. Leaders who are willing to trust their employees to perform the projects delegated to them, are those who get to see beautiful things happen. When you demonstrate a willingness to trust in their abilities and show that you value their judgement, you’re enabling creative thinking – they key to building capacity across your organization. 

  • Establish choice. The freedom to choose is a great motivator, so encourage your employees to achieve their targets in their own way.

  • Encourage learning. Normalize vulnerability, taking responsibility for mistakes, and engaging in discussion for improvement. Environments where people are terrified to fail are terrible places to work. Fear is a lousy motivator for good performance and is wholly unsustainable long-term.

  • Communicate (and listen) regularly. Make information sharing reciprocal. Deliver what they need to know, and then actively listen to the perspectives and ideas of others. Diversity of thought contributes to better decision making.

  • Move aside. The job might not be done the way you would do it – and that’s ok. It’s a powerful experience to step aside, and allow someone else move the organization forward based on the vision you set.

The “Laridae Way” of Developing Strong Managers

The above all sounds easy enough, but throw in the fact that managers are all individuals with unique skills and needs, that we’re all also trying to also deliver service, in a pandemic – and suddenly your path to developing a strong management team is muddled.

Laridae has put together a program that is ideal for anyone with direct reports: the Management Training Program for non-profits. This can mean someone brand new to management, or a 25-year veteran of people management.

Since 2019, we have engaged with more than 20 non-profit organizations, graduated more than 100 managers, and currently have over 60 participants in active training today. Along with this program, we have delivered over 7,000 hours of management coaching – and have received fantastic feedback along the way.

Ask us whether Laridae’s Management Training Program is right for your non-profit.