The Predictive Index People Management Study
The Predictive Index surveyed 5,000+ employees and discovered the traits that most strongly correlate with great (and terrible) managers.
How to be a great manager
(or a terrible boss)
In June 2018, The Predictive Index conducted a survey, asking respondents to answer questions about their managers. With 5,103 respondents, it’s the biggest survey of this nature known to us. And the thousands of responses across many industries allow for analyses that home in on various groups while preserving statistical validity.
We’ve made the charts from this report available for you to download.
Here’s how respondents rated managers.
We asked all survey respondents to “rate your manager on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being a terrible manager and 10 being an awesome manager.” For the purposes of this report, we’re classifying managers like this:
Those who got ratings of 9 and 10 are called “great managers.”
Those who got ratings of 7 and 8 are called “good managers.”
Those who got ratings of 1, 2, 3 and 4 are called “bad managers.”
Now let’s dive into the findings!
Finding #1: Bad managers are self-centered but not self-aware.
We start with bad managers. Much has been researched and written about how to be a good manager (and our report will add data to that discussion too), but there’s far less empirical data about bad managers.
After asking people to rate their managers on a scale from 1-10, we gave respondents a list of 105 traits and asked them to select those that describe their managers.
The commonalities we see among bad managers is that they are focused largely on themselves, but they lack self-awareness–they’re not attuned to the impact they have on the people around them when they do things like play favorites, or badmouth or don’t listen to others.
10 most common traits among 633 managers who were rated 1-4 in the survey (bad managers):
Total N=4,273; Bad manager N=633
In their own words: terrible managers
In addition to giving respondents a list of traits to choose from, we also gave them an open-field question and prompted them to provide three words that came to mind when they thought about terrible managers.
Here’s a word cloud representing the top words used to describe terrible managers:
The People Management Study
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Finding #2: Great managers are both passionate and compassionate.
OK, now let’s talk about great managers (those who ranked 9 or 10). There were 1,533 of them. When you analyze the traits most prevalent in them, they tend to work hard, know how to laugh, have a positive disposition, and understand how to do their jobs. Great managers are also passionate about what they do and compassionate to those around them.
Here are the top 10 traits of great managers:
In their own words
Here’s a word cloud representing the top words used to describe great managers when respondents were given an open-field question and prompted to provide three words that came to mind when they thought about great managers.
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Finding #3: Managers have an outsized impact on their employees’ work experiences.
It’s common sense that having a good boss makes a difference to people at work, but this survey reveals the magnitude of the impact.
We asked survey respondents to evaluate their own levels of engagement by having them say how much they agreed with this statement: “Overall, I feel passion and energy for the job I am responsible for doing every day.” Here’s what responses looked like, filtered by whether they had great or bad managers:
Do you agree? “I feel passion and energy for my job.”
As you can see, 94% of employees with great bosses have passion and energy for their jobs, whereas only 59% of employees with bad bosses have passion and energy for their jobs.
And when you look at the entire dataset (not just great and bad managers), there’s a significant correlation between manager ratings and the passion and energy people feel for their jobs. We estimate that how someone rates their manager accounts for roughly 14% of how engaged they are in their current job.
Perhaps you’ve also heard the old saying that “people don’t leave their companies; they leave their managers.” Indeed, it appears to be true. We asked people how likely they are to look for another job in the next 12 months.
How likely are you to leave in the next 12 months?
The bottom line:
77% of people with bad bosses hope to jump ship soon, whereas only 18% of people with great managers plan to leave soon.
If your company has a turnover problem, that means your company probably has a people management problem.
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Finding #4: There are more good managers than bad ones.
This was happy news. We asked people to rate their managers on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being a terrible manager and 10 being an awesome manager.The average of all ratings was 7.3, with 34% being classified as “good” (rating of 7 or 8) and 36% being classified as “great” (rating of 9 or 10). The distribution of these ratings is shown below, but you can get a more segmented view of how different people rated their managers in our full report.
Finding #5: Men and women match up evenly as managers.
When it comes to women and men in management roles, women received an average rating of 7.3 with men receiving an ever-so-slightly lower rating of 7.2.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how men and women managers ranked:
Note: Total N=4,194; Male manager N= 2,304; Female manager N= 1,890; 79 responses for “other” and/or “prefer not to answer” not shown.
Traits of male and female managers
It’s also interesting to note that the traits of male and female managers tracked fairly closely to each other. If you look at the top 10 traits of both male and female managers, seven of them are the same. Here were the top 10 traits associated with male and female managers:
Top traits of male managers:
Note: Male manager N= 2,304
Top traits of female managers:
Note: Female manager N= 1,890
We dive deeper into the data around gender and management in the full report.
Finding #6: Millennials (Gen Y) more than hold their ground as people managers.
We asked respondents what year they were born in and what generation their managers are in. We used the following definitions for generations:
Baby Boomer: Between 53 and 72 years old
Gen X: Roughly between 42 and 52 years old
Gen Y: Roughly between 24 and 41 years old
Gen Z: Roughly 23 years old or younger
When it comes to how different generations of managers stack up, there is minimal difference between the average ratings for managers of different generations. With that said, Gen Y (aka millennials) managers eked out slightly better average ratings than Gen X and Baby Boomer managers. This is surprising for a generation that’s sometimes maligned for their management skills.
Ratings for different generations
Note: Total N= 4,192; Gen Y N = 1,192; Gen X N =1,633; Baby Boomers N=1,345; 103 responses that were Gen Z (born 1995 or earlier) or were “not sure/prefer not to answer” omitted from analysis. Mean difference between Gen Y and Baby Boomers was statistically significant (p≤.05).
Here’s a more granular breakdown of those ratings:
Note: Total N= 4,192; Gen Y N = 1,192; Gen X N =1,633; Baby Boomers N=1,345; 103 responses that were Gen Z (born 1995 or earlier) or were “not sure/prefer not to answer” omitted from analysis.
In addition to the fact that different generations stacked up fairly evenly, we saw no clear preference for certain generations reporting to other generations. For example, Baby Boomers who reported to Gen Y managers gave them an average manager rating of 7.2 and Baby Boomers who reported to other Baby Boomers gave them an average manager rating of 7.1.
When it comes to the traits that make a good manager, millennials’ responses were like the rest in that having a sense of humor, a strong work ethic, being honest and being confident are some of the most common characteristics that were identified in their top-rated bosses. But there is one characteristic that millenials associated with great bosses far more than any other age group: being casual with rules. 22% of millenials with top managers said that their managers were casual with rules, compared to only 13% of Gen X-ers and 12% of Baby Boomers. Could it be that millennials are more likely to enjoy a manager who doesn’t take the rules too seriously?
Percentage of great managers who are casual with rules, filtered by generation:
Note: Gen Y N=734; Gen X N = 409; Baby Boomers N = 300.
Finding #7: The importance of feedback is massive.
A common complaint from employees is how much feedback they get from their managers. Indeed, management ratings fluctuate wildly based on how much feedback the employee feels he or she is getting.
Manager ratings, filtered by how much feedback employees feel they get:
Note: “I don’t get any feedback” N=409; “I get some feedback, but not as much as I’d like” N=1,458; “I get just the right amount of feedback” N=2,033; “I get a little more feedback than I’d like” N=276; “I get way too much feedback” N=93.
Now take a look at how much feedback people are actually getting.
So, as shown in the first feedback chart, managers who gave a little more feedback or too much feedback received average ratings of 7.1 and 4.5 respectively, but those who gave too little or no feedback scored lower, with average ratings of 6.5 and 4.2, respectively (meaning managers are better off giving too much feedback rather than too little). Yet 44% of managers appear to be erring on the side of too little feedback and only 8% err on the side of too much feedback. The bottom line: employees crave feedback and managers are better off giving more than less.
In other words, 44% of managers appear to be giving not enough feedback despite the fact they’d be better off erring on the side of too much feedback.
Finding #8: Being respected AND liked are important to managers’ ratings.
We found that 79% of our respondents both like their manager personally and respect them professionally. And as you may have suspected, both liking and respecting one’s manager have a lot to do with that manager’s overall rating.
Note: “liked personally”-Yes N= 3,716; No N = 557;“Respected professionally”-Yes N=3,610; No N=663
99% of managers who were rated as “great” were also both liked personally and respected professionally.
For bad managers, it breaks down like this in terms of whether their people like and respect them:
Finding #9: The prevalence of certain traits varies between industries.
We examined data from the largest industries in our dataset to see if different industries had divergent management styles in terms of which items were most frequently associated with all managers in that industry. There were a few traits that had surprising differences in the percent of respondents from the industry who associated them with their managers, including having a good understanding of the business, intelligence, and persuasiveness. Here’s a look at the first of those items.
Percent of managers who have a good grasp of the entire business, broken out by industry:
Overall, only a little more than half of the managers in the sample were associated with having a “good grasp of the entire business.” But there are some industries that seem to have managers that perform better in this area, like professional services, and others where it is more of a problem, such as healthcare and retail.
We delve into more differences in the full report.
So there you have it! If you’re interested in seeing the full report—which includes additional conclusions from the data about what makes a good, great or bad manager, plus color commentary from people management experts—you can find it here.
Finding #10: Delegation, hiring, and communication are on people managers’ minds.
We also had 2,045 respondents indicate that they managed other people. We asked them to “list three to five things that are ‘top of mind’ for you as a manager.” The most common words we heard were heartening: “delegation,” “hiring,” and “communication,” and “training.”
Here’s the full word cloud:
Industries covered in this survey
We collected responses from 22 different industries. This is how our respondent pool stacked up against the overall mix of workers in the US economy, as reported by the US Department of Labor:
The Predictive Index created the survey instrument and opened the survey to respondents in June of 2018.
The survey consisted of three major sections. In the first section, we asked the respondents some general questions about their work experience. The most important question of this section was one that asked respondents to rate their manager on a scale of 1 to 10. This question was essential to the survey, as it was the one we used to define “great,” “good” and “bad” managers. In the second section, we asked respondents to select words and phrases that described their manager from a list of 105 unique traits. The traits were determined in collaboration with subject matter experts and represent positive, negative and neutral characteristics. The final section of the survey included more questions about the respondents’ work experience, as well as demographic questions about the respondents and their managers.
The survey was promoted through email and social media with the incentive of entering people into a sweepstakes to win a $500 gift card if they completed the survey.
From our original pool of 5,104 responses, we excluded 767 partial responses and 95 invalid responses. Responses were determined to be invalid if the response level on the free-choice item was under 5 or over 100 selections. The final sample contained 4,273 respondents from 22 different industries.
1) U.S. Department of Labor Statistics data from 2016 Current Employment Statistics survey Employment Projections program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Industry categories included in BLS census but not People Management Survey: non-agriculture self employed. Industry categories included in People Management Survey but not the BLS census: non-profit, administration and public services, management of companies and enterprises, real estate, rental and leasing.
2) Reported results: Pearson correlation, two-tailed; r = 0.38 (P ≤ 0.05)
3) N for the industries in the charts that follow: Total N (including industries not shown) = 4,274; Professional Services, Software and IT N = 581; Healthcare N = 563; Finance N = 408; Manufacturing N = 362; Retail N = 297.
Full list of trait options in the survey
Advocates for me
Asks for feedback
Avoids making decisions
Badmouths people behind their backs
Betrays my or others’ trust
Cares about me personally
Cares about my career & personal development
Confronts conflict head on
Considers other viewpoints before making decisions
Considers unintended consequences of decisions
Doesn’t advocate for me
Doesn’t communicate clear expectations
Doesn’t play favorites
Doesn’t ask me many questions
Doesn’t follow through on commitments
Doesn’t hold me accountable for my work
Doesn’t let me make decisions
Doesn’t listen to others
Doesn’t recognize my good work and efforts
Doesn’t set clear expectations for me
Doesn’t show concern for my career & personal development
Effectively communicates long-term plans
Follows through on commitments
Gives me clear assignments
Has a good grasp of the entire business
Has a negative attitude
Has a positive attitude
Has a sense of humor
Has a strong work ethic
Has lofty and difficult-to-achieve expectations
Helps me see the meaning of my work
Holds team members accountable for their work
Is a poor verbal communicator
Is a well-rounded person
Is able to tailor her/his communication style for different employees
Is careful with rules
Is casual with rules
Is easily threatened
Is emotionally volatile
Is flexible and adaptable
Is guarded/emotionally detached
Is highly intelligent
Is highly knowledgeable in the area she/he manages
Is highly responsive
Is more people-oriented than task oriented
Is more task-oriented than people-oriented
Is naturally skeptical of others
Is overly dependent on others
Is passionate about her/his job
Is quick to connect with others
Is slow and careful in connecting with others
Is willing to dive in and do work herself/himself
Isn’t open or interested in feedback
Isn’t passionate about his/her work
Jockeys for position within the organization
Keeps team focused on priorities
Lets me make decisions
Maintains her/his calm in difficult situations
Makes decisions quickly
Makes good decisions
Makes sure my voices/ideas are heard and considered
Manages his/her emotions maturely
Naturally trusts others
Prioritizes short-term results over long-term results
Puts her/his needs in front of my needs
Puts my needs in front of his/her own
Recognizes me when I do good work
Reflects on and analyzes mistakes
Runs meetings efficiently
Sets and communicates clear expectations
Solves problems quickly
Stays calm and cool in the face of pressure
Takes credit for my work
Understands what drives/motivates me personally
Wants to prove himself/herself right