The 8 Best Professional Development Goals for Managers

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Ever worked with an unhappy manager? Seen them frazzled, frustrated, or run down?

Chances are, their team felt the same way.

There's even a name for it: the Cascade Effect.

Professional Development Goals for Managers

According to Gallup's "State of the American Manager” report:

"Employees' engagement is directly influenced by their managers' engagement — whose engagement is directly influenced by their managers' engagement.”

This happens all too often– especially for new managers– and their team and department suffer greatly because of it. If losing one employee is bad, imagine losing a whole team.

What can you do about it? Lots.

One of the big reasons that the Cascade Effect hits so many teams is because managers don't get the support they need.

To keep your managers engaged, you need to support them and help them grow. Especially if they're a new manager, their Task-Relevant Maturity will be low as they take on new tasks and responsibilities. That means they need more support, not less.

As Andy Grove reminds us in High Output Management, when people are doing something for the first time, they need the most structure and support from you:

Professional Development Goals for Managers

So, once you've chosen a manager for the right reasons (not everyone has the qualities of a good leader), having a plan to help them grow is critical.

However, wanting to support them and actually being helpful are two different things. You need to ask yourself: What kinds of professional development goals should you help your managers with? What skills are most important for your managers to develop?

Today, we give you the 8 best places to start developing your managers, so that you can avoid the Cascade Effect striking your teams.

Table of Contents

8 of the Best Professional Development Goals for Managers

There are many things new managers need to master to succeed. Becoming a manager is a career change, so a growth mindset is critical.

Professional Development Goals for Managers

Even if you or your new manager had a leadership position in a previous company, there will be things you'll need to learn about your current company's culture and system. 

As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discussed in her TED talk, if you don't believe you can grow and improve, you won't become more or better than you are today.

For managers in particular, this is a fatal mindset; such a manager won't be able to develop the vital new skills necessary to be a good leader. Even worse, they could stifle their team by also holding them back from growing and learning new skills due to a lack of belief that they can do grow either.

If you're a senior leader looking to help your new managers succeed, read our 7 Tips for First-Time Managers: How to Succeed as a New Manager.

Then, whether you're looking to improve as a manager, or you're a senior leader wanting to help your managers with their growth and development, adopt these professional development goals: 

Part 1: Develop soft skills

One of the biggest changes in becoming a manager is how much more of a people job it is than your IC work was. For many managers, this is a steep learning curve.

Here are 3 important soft skills to help your managers develop:

Professional development goals for managers includes having good 1 on 1s

1. Learn how to have effective 1 on 1s

Hopefully, your managers already have regular 1 on 1s, but are they effective? 

Many managers have one on one meetings with their team, but they make critical mistakes that end up wasting that valuable time, such as:

Many of these problems can be solved and your meetings will go a lot smoother with a good 1 on 1 template combined with learning how to use that template well to guide your meetings. 

That involves knowing what to do:

  • Before 1 on 1s: Meeting often enough (ideally every week or two), spending enough time in the meeting (ideally an hour), and be prepared ahead of time by putting real thought into it by creating a 1 on 1 agenda.
  • During 1 on 1s: Asking great questions will expand what you talk about to cover all the most important topics, then setting clear next steps and expectations builds momentum.
  • In-between meetings: Taking action, following up, and keeping the meetings consistently can make all the difference in the long term value of 1 on 1s.

By making the most of these meetings, it shows your team members you value them, and helps keep them motivated and growing.

Back to Table of Contents

Professional Development Goals for Managers

2. Be a more effective listener

Curiosity is a priceless skill for leaders. By developing the skill of asking good questions, you'll uncover useful insights from your team members that will help you lead better, fix problems when they're small, and learn what your team members need most to thrive. 

This really comes down to two things:

  • Asking great questions: Curiosity isn't passive. You need to have great questions that allow you to explore a topic and uncover insights. Every good discussion in a 1 on 1 starts with the right set of questions.  
  • Listening to what they have to say: No question matters if you don't truly listen to what they have to say. True listening means giving undivided attention and asking genuine follow-up questions to bring clarity.

The questions you ask in 1 on 1 s are especially powerful, because it is a dedicated private time where you can have more candid conversations with your team. That means it's particularly important to teach your managers to ask their team a variety of questions during their 1 on 1s to uncover key insights, like:

  • How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
  • What drives you? What motivates you to come to work each day?
  • What area of the company would you like to learn more about?
  • What aspects of your work would you like more or less direction from me?
  • When was the time you enjoyed working here the most?

Further reading: Check out more great 1 on 1 questions here: One on One Meeting Questions Great Managers Ask Their Teams

Active Listening skills are as important as your opening question

Yet, there's more to it than asking good questions. You also have to develop your active listening skills so that you're not just hearing what their team members are saying but truly understanding the meaning behind it: 

Professional Development Goals for Managers

Teach your managers to practice the highest level of active listening: reflecting.

Before jumping from one topic to another, a good manager shares in their own words what they believe their team member said. Then, you see if your team member agrees.

From there, you can either get clarification, or move on, confidently knowing they know what your team member meant, and importantly, your team member feels heard and understood. 

The better listener your managers you're developing become, the more they'll learn from their teams. This will help them fix problems when their small, learn what their team needs to succeed, and ensure they have open lines of communication with everyone they manage.

Back to Table of Contents

3. Learn how to get buy-in

As many leaders learn early in their career the hard way, before you can make big changes, you need to get buy-in

You can't get much done as a leader if people won't follow you. However, that doesn't just happen because you're the boss. Instead, you have to learn how to get buy-in from others.

The first and most important thing in getting buy in is to learn how to get a first follower. The first person to buy in is much harder than all the others, so you need to pay special attention to them and what it takes to get them on board. Then, once they are on board, you'll find others will start to join in. Next thing you know, you have a movement and full team buy-in.

This awesome video by entrepreneur Derek Sivers captures perfectly how that happens by watching a lone dancer on the hill become the leader of a big dance party:

The biggest mistake that managers make is to make a decision on their own and then broadcast that decision to the entire team without giving them any time to offer their own input.

When you do that, you make your team feel like they don't have a say in things. You also have no idea how they feel about the decision before announcing it. 

If you can uncover potential concerns and issues beforehand, you can anticipate objections and present the idea in a way that will be most exciting to them. You'll also hear potential ideas for improvement based on what they think if you give them a chance to share their thoughts.

One on ones are great for uncovering these insights and finding out what it takes to get buy in from your team members. They're also key to making the right adjustments and changes before announcing major decisions and changes, so you've already got your first follower by the time the decision is announced broadly. 

Back to Table of Contents

Part 2: Teach them time management skills

As an IC, you spent a lot of time developing your productivity systems and little ways to make yourself more efficient. 

That's fine, but only so long as you don't have a team you need to manage. 

Once you become a manager, those basic time management hacks are trumped by priority management as your individual productivity isn't nearly as important as your team's.

You need to decide what the most important tasks are for you and your team, then prioritize those things above others that could easily fill your day, but aren't as impactful.

As a manager, you need to carefully consider what your team can accomplish collectively– as opposed to only measuring yourself based on your productivity individually. 

What we're really getting here is that managers must develop a multiplier mindset

Professional development goals for managers be a multiplier

4. Become a Multiplier

The combined productivity of your team is significantly higher than your own alone. Despite this, it's a common mistake for managers to still focus on their personal productivity. 

Instead, you need to spend the lion's share of your time asking yourself, "how can I make my team more productive?" 

For example, a blocker may be affecting 3 separate team members. By investing some time into clearing that blocker, you've now positively impacted the productivity of all three people in one effort.

Even better, Camille Fournier does a great job breaking this down by numbers in her excellent Velocity 2014 keynote:

So, how do you get your managers to start adopting a multiplier mindset? Teach them to start looking for opportunities to be a multiplier, like the example above.

However, they do not have to think of everything themselves. Instead, they should look to their team for ideas just as much as trust their own observations. They can ask their team questions like:

  • How could we change our team meetings to be more effective?
  • Do you feel like you're on the same page with the rest of the team? How often do you think you need meetings to ensure you stay that way?
  • Is everyone pulling their weight on the team?
  • Are you uncomfortable giving any of your peer's constructive criticism? If so, why?

With a little digging and the right questions, you'll find many opportunities to unlock, unblock, and improve your team. However, you will never learn these things if you focus all your time solely on your own productivity and effectiveness.

Back to Table of Contents

Professional Development Goals for Managers - assume positive intent

5. Learn to manage your energy and stay positive

Similar to developing a multiplier mindset, as a leader, your mood is a key way you can affect your team in an exponential way. 

If you're stressed, your entire team will pick up on those little cues you're giving off (that you might not even be aware of) and become stressed, too. This goes for every emotion, from stress to positive emotions like excitement, and negative ones too, unfortunately. 

Teaching your managers to take care of themselves is important for other reasons, too. 

As a manager, you're often putting out fires, so it's easy to fall into reactive management mode, only hearing about problems when they're causing a big mess. This often goes hand in hand with having a crazy calendar that looks something like this:

The problem that happens when your week looks like this is you don't give yourself any room to sit back and breathe. You lose that critical time to map the vision for your team including:

  • Future projects and goals
  • "Forest for the trees" moments that help you better understand a problem
  • Changes to team structure or processes
  • Larger business decisions if you're a founder/CEO or department lead

Leadership requires looking to the future, anticipating changes, and making proactive adjustments. For that, you need to give yourself space to sit back and think. It also means getting perspective and distance from potential initial negative reactions and emotions.

To master all of this, teach your managers that it's okay, and valuable, to take a break when needed and truly reflect. 

Back to Table of Contents

Professional development goals for managers growth mindset is critical

Part 3: Help them develop a growth mindset

I touched earlier on the importance of having a growth mindset. It's not enough just to want to grow your managers. What if they don't believe they can grow? Or if they do, maybe they need to develop the right growth practices. 

Your managers have to believe they can improve and learn new skills both to succeed in their role and with their team.

Your team won't thrive if you don't believe they can develop new skills. They'll be suffocated and bored doing only the same things you currently trust they can do. They'll also be held back if you aren't learning the skills necessary to level up as a leader, which will allow you to better support them.

Here are 3 growth-related professional development goals for managers: 

Professional Development Goals for Managers

6. Become a regular reader

If you've been a leader for long, you know that the learning never really ends. 

That's what's so great about developing a regular reading habit. You will then always be learning and leveling up.

And if you can get your managers to embrace reading, they'll always be developing their skills, too.

To get you or them started, you can put together a curated list of great books. Two of our favorites we highly recommend are:

Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

Carnegie's classic stands the test of time as one of the most valuable books any leader can read. It will teach you so much about managing and motivating people (something most managers get wrong in the beginning) through timeless stories that make it an easy read.

In the book, Carnegie breaks down countless insights on how people work, what really motivates them, and mistakes to avoid as a leader.

It also covers key lessons on the power and best approaches to giving praise, how to retain your best employees, and how to approach written communication to get the results you really want.

If the soft skill side of management is particularly a weakness for a manager you're helping, this is the book to get them.

Andy Grove's "High Output Management"

If you had your managers read only one book, this is the one for them to read.

Written by legendary Intel founder Andy Grove, the book dives into many of the concepts we've talked about so far and even coins essential management terms we still talk about 35+ years later like Task Relevant Maturity.

The book includes lessons such as:

  • How to maximize the impact you have with your team
  • Making decisions with limited information
  • How to manage you and your team's time effectively
  • How to have high impact 1 on 1s (we wrote about his method here)

Keep in mind, these are just a few of our recommendations for new and seasoned managers. For the complete list, see: The 8 Best Books for New Managers on Leadership and Self-Improvement.

Also, if you're a senior leader coming up with this plan, choose a book you'll read as well, or have already read. That way, you set a good example, and can discuss it with them.

And if books aren't your favorite medium, another great option are podcasts (or audiobooks). Digesting audio is generally easier and faster than sitting down with a book. Plus, you can listen while you drive, clean, etc.

As an example, you can check out this episode of Lighthouse's Creating High Performing Teams podcast talking about many ways to invest in the growth of leaders – How to Become a Better Manager in Just 15 Minutes a Week:

Reading regularly is a powerful practice for you and other leaders to level yourselves up. Yet, equally important and powerful is learning to level up others by being a great coach to your team. 

Back to Table of Contents

7. Be a great coach

When you're an individual contributor, all you need to do is grow yourself. When you're a leader, it becomes important to not only grow yourself, but also grow your team. That's why your managers must become coaches

Professional Development Goals for Managers

This means being comfortable talking with your people about their goals and determining small steps to help them achieve those goals over time. It means taking a look at their work and giving them constructive feedback to improve, and praise to let them know what you want to see more of.

The important thing to remember is what this investment really means; if your team succeeds, so do you. If your team fails…it's a bad sign for you.

By becoming a great coach, you'll not only boost your team's performance, you'll often also better motivate them.

We are all happiest when we feel like we're moving forward and making regular progress. As researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer discovered, it's actually the #1 contributor to being happy at work:

Professional Development Goals for Managers -  make progress

Coaching + Regular Progress = Motivation

Especially your best people want to grow. They want to feel like they're making progress in their careers.

By becoming an active coach in their work life, you're showing an ongoing interest in their career goals and success. This is a huge motivator, and helps make everyone on your team more and more valuable; their growth means they can take on more challenges and different tasks at your company.

Keep in mind, growth comes in many forms. You can still grow a team member even if you can't promote them. Often, learning and mastering skills can be just as motivating as advancing in a job title or climbing the corporate ladder.

There are often many ways to improve in your existing job, and the best way for someone to improve is to have a coach guiding them. This is as true for the workplace as it is in sports, and a manager should be the coach for their team.

Further reading: If your manager's employees don't know their goals, have them read How to help when your team member can't answer "What are your career goals?” for ideas on how to help them.

Back to Table of Contents

professional development goals for managers should include developing future leaders

8. Identify future leaders

Every good manager who develops their skills eventually has too big a team to manage themselves. When that happens, you need to start developing leaders of your own (or ideally a bit before you hit that wall).

This all depends on how your company is run, but if it's in your power, it's a great idea to try to promote from within. There is risk, and great rewards, from promoting key employees who already know your company, your values, and likely many of the people whom they'll be leading. 

Fortunately, much of the risk of promoting from within can be avoided or mitigated. Some common mistakes when promoting from within to coach your manager to avoid include:

  • Promoting based on individual contributor abilities, not leadership skills
  • Not having consistent one on ones with those new managers to support them
  • Failing to provide leadership training to prepare future managers before they take the position

Once you feel a manager you're coaching is in a position to start promoting their first manager(s), set a goal with them of identifying a few people on their team as potential future leaders. Challenge them why and ask them to discuss the idea with each person to see if they're interested.

Once they've identified one or more potential leaders, have them check out these guides to help them prepare those team members for leadership:

Back to Table of Contents

Professional development goals for managers train your leaders

Grow your leaders

Being a manager requires a life-long growth mindset. 

There's always more to learn about how people work, whether that's on an individual basis, or how we function as groups. To develop your managers into great leaders, you need to set them up with the right game plan for developing those critical skills necessary to lead effectively.

Keep in mind, these professional development goals are some of the most important to start with, but they're not everything. Their learning– and yours– is never over.  Otherwise, that's how you end up with an organization plagued by the Peter Principle.

Want one place to document all your goals for professional development? Download our free 1:1 meeting template now.

1 on 1 meeting template

And, to keep your and their learning going, check out these posts:

For leveling up your own leadership abilities:

And leveling up your managers:

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

Read more

Browse topics

Follow us:

Note: We do not accept guest posts, so please do not email us.

Sign up to learn the essential skills you need to become a great manager:

1 on 1 meeting software, leadership courses, and group training to help you be the manager you always wanted.

Do You Want to Learn
How to be a Great Manager?

Sign up to join over 27,000 managers who get our latest posts to learn:
  • How to motivate and retain your team;
  • How to have more effective one on ones;
  • Lessons from other managers & research that matters to you.
+ Free copy of our E-book: 10 Steps to having amazing 1 on 1s with your team
Learn how to have amazing 1 on 1s today
Sign up now to get your free book to learn how to have motivating, engaging 1 on 1s. Learn from great leaders like Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, and workplace research from Stanford & Harvard.
Share via
Copy link