Lattice makes it easier for teams to set goals, give feedback, and drive career growth. But while software brings clarity and purpose to employee development, there’s also a human element at play. Great managers are empathetic, present, and supportive. They also play a major role in amplifying reports’ accomplishments and steering their long-term careers.
We asked professionals to reflect on their own career trajectory and the managers who helped push them along the way. What qualities or habits made these managers so instrumental to their growth? Here are the tell-tale signs you’re working with a career-changing leader.
Managers are under tremendous pressure to perform. When things go wrong, they’re the ones who bear the brunt of the criticism. But in better times? The professionals we interviewed shared that their favorite managers didn’t just shield their reports, they deflected praise their way, too.
That was a quality that Beth McRae, President of The McRae Agency, really admired about one of her first managers. “Early in my career, I had this amazing manager named Tim Larrick. He believed in mentoring me and not punishing me for mistakes, but rather inspiring me. He gave me enough room to stretch and grow and fly,” McRae said.
Though her manager played a pivotal role in seeing the team’s projects through, he never accepted any recognition for it. “I was empowered to create hugely successful campaigns and he never once tried to take the credit for them. I think he was truly proud of each of the people who worked for him. I was blessed to work with him.”
We all want to be led by someone with a history of winning. But while a manager’s sterling track record might look like it bodes well for your career success, it’s more complicated than that. Managers who have gone through their own struggles are better equipped to offer reports perspective when, inevitably, problems arise or mistakes get made.
Wendy Appel, a partner at Trilogy Effect, fell victim to office politics when a competitive colleague sabotaged her chance for a promotion while her manager was on vacation. “When my boss returned to work and learned about what happened, she was incensed. But at that point, there was nothing she could do to fix the situation,” Appel said.
“Carol was someone I admired. She was strong and compassionate. What really helped was that she shared a story about a similar situation she faced during her career and how devastating it was for her. I had been beating myself up for how things happened. After she told me her own story, I felt soothed and affirmed,” she said.
What do your favorite managers talk about behind closed doors? According to the professionals we asked, how amazing their top performers are. When managers talk up their reports’ skills and achievements, they’re marketing their next big promotion or career move.
“My former manager was a strong-willed, decisive, and smart person. He was so good at building up a person and an entire group,” said Karl Armstrong, founder of EpicWin App. Armstrong believes he owes much of his success to the public recognition and praise his manager gave him on a regular basis.
“I will never forget how he stood by me during my worst days and bragged about me on my best days. From there, I trusted him not just about my career life but some of my personal life as well. When you have someone who believes in you, you’ll be inspired to do great things and go for the extra mile every day,” Armstrong said.
No one wants to feel like they’ve been set up to fail. While goal-setting can inspire employees and give them focus, setting unrealistic targets does the opposite. And because goals are so closely tied to career development, bad goals can derail growth. The professionals we asked said that their best managers were able to differentiate between ambitious goals and fantasy.
Sam Kirby-Brown, Director at The Artisan Gift Company, believes a prior manager’s ability to distinguish between achievable and unachievable goals — and his willingness to push back against leadership — made all the difference in his career.
“He managed the expectations of senior management very well. Occasionally, those at the top set goals that are over-ambitious. In particular, board members can have influence over objectives without understanding the reality of these in the same way that those in the field do,” Kirby-Brown said.
“He was so good at managing the wilder goals of the board and translating those into actionable objectives and sales targets for me to achieve. If ever I was ever falling short of those objectives, we'd meet and assess it at the time. We'd come up with a way around it, new ideas to meet the goal and the manager would translate this back to those at the top,” he said.
Good managers challenge us to learn, grow, and produce better work. But sometimes their feedback is a little more, let’s say, comprehensive. Great managers will pick apart your work without ever giving you a reason to believe it’s personal.
“We’re tough on ideas, kind on people.” Those were the words Angela Cheung often heard from her former manager at Disney. Cheung, now the Managing Director at APV, was challenged in almost every single way by her manager. He’d challenge her ideas, asking for more. But he never treated her with disrespect and always exhibited a positive, if not jovial attitude at work.
“He once said he had a gift for yanking out the best ideas in people. He found potential and talent where no one of us could see it and championed us all the way until it was done. He had endless enthusiasm and a healthy disregard for the politics, the bureaucracy, and anything else ‘corporate-y’ that got in the way of doing the work,” Cheung said.
“And yet, I and most of his team didn’t just respect James, we would walk through fire for him. He had your back, no matter what.”
Even for the ambitious, getting that high-profile project or speaker slot on an all-hands meeting agenda isn’t a given. But earning that one moment in the corporate spotlight is sometimes just enough to change everything. Like parents signing up their kids for a piano recital, the best managers don’t just encourage you to speak up — they sometimes push you onto the stage.
Richard Williamson, Chief Marketing Officer at Backburner Marketing, got his start as a customer service rep at a cellphone company. He regularly sent customer insights to the company’s head marketer. Though he had no traditional marketing experience or education, the team eventually brought him onboard. Williamson’s manager, who he now views as a mentor, amplified his voice by bringing him to high-profile meetings and skillfully teeing up questions that showed off how much he’d learned.
“We’d go over my work in exceptionally fine detail. This repeated endlessly until I got it right. It was both mentorship and education,” Williamson said. “My manager made me give presentations to senior managers and attend national meetings. They’d ask me questions in public forums. I had to know my stuff, always and thoroughly.”
The manager-employee relationship is central to all things work. Looking to get more out of your company’s one-on-ones, performance reviews, and career conversations? Lattice’s easy-to-use software supercharges your managers and helps keep employees engaged from anywhere. Schedule a product tour today.