8 Best Professional Development Goals for Managers

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 this: 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.”

Yet, this happens all too often, especially for new managers, and their team, and their department, suffer greatly because of that. If losing one employee is bad, imagine losing a whole team!

What can you do about it? Lots.

One of the big reasons that this 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.

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 really important.

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 avoid the Cascade Effect striking your teams.

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 spoke about on 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 they stifle their team, by also holding them back from growing and learning new skills due to a lack of belief they can do it.

Making managers successful starts with you.

To learn more about how to help your new managers succeed, read our 7 Tips for First-Time Managers: How to Succeed as a New Manager.

Then, to help them with their growth and development, start with these professional development goals for managers we’re covering today: 

Table of Contents

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:

All of this can be solved with a good 1 on 1 template and learning how to use that template to guide your meetings. 

That involves knowing what to do:

  • Before 1 on 1s: Including how often you meet, when/where/how long, and how to effectively inform their team about the meetings. 
  • During 1 on 1s: Bringing great questions to ask their team member and various useful topics to cover as well as making the discussion topics actionable.
  • In-between meetings: Building rhythm, getting them involved, and making sure someone is accountable for each of the items discussed from now until next meeting.

Another important thing to have in order before each meeting is a 1 on 1 agenda. Make sure your managers set an agenda in collaboration with their team members before each meeting.

This shows to your team members you value the meeting, and make good use of the time. Even if the discussion includes other last minute things important to the team member, an agenda ensures important topics aren’t missed.

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Professional Development Goals for Managers

2. Be a more effective listener

Curiosity is a priceless skill for leaders. By developing the skill of being curious, you’ll uncover useful insights from your team members that will help you lead better. 

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. 
  • Listening to what they have to say: Asking questions isn’t enough if you don’t truly hear what they have to say. True listening means giving undivided attention, and asking followup questions to bring clarity.

Questions are especially powerful in 1 on 1s, where you have dedicated private time with a team member. Teach your managers to ask their team questions during 1 on 1s to discover key insights in a private setting, 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

Yet, there’s more to it than asking a 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, coach them to share in their own words what they believe their team member said. Then, see if they agree. From there, they can either get clarification, or move on, confidently knowing they know what their team member meant. 

The better listener your managers you’re developing become, the more they’ll learn from their team. This will help them fix problems when their small, learn what their team needs to succeed, and overall be much more effective.

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3. Learn how to get buy-in

Before they can make those changes, your managers 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 is to learn how to get that first follower, as Derek Sivers captures perfectly in this entertaining, short video:

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 them 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 dig up 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.

Professional development goals for managers get buy in

One on ones are great for uncovering these insights and getting information from team members. They’re also great for getting buy-in from a few team members before announcing the decision, so you’ve already got your first follower by the time the decision is announced. 

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Professional development goals for managers time management

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 you come to find you have way more than you can do in a given week. 

You need a way of deciding what are the most important tasks and to prioritize those things so you make sure they get done. 

That’s just one example of how your managers need to look at their time differently, though. 

You also need to consider what your team can accomplish collectively– as opposed to individually as an IC– and how to manage yourself so that you have the fuel to maintain your energy and motivation long-term. 

That leads us to one of the single most important things every leader needs to 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 that managers still focus on their personal productivity. 

Instead, you need to spend the lion’s share of your time thinking about how you can make your entire 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.

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.

Teach them the value of asking questions during their 1 on 1s to see what ideas they can get from their team to make those kinds of exponential improvements. 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 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, they’ll find many opportunities to unlock, unblock, and improve their team. However, they will never learn these things if they focus all their time solely focused on themselves.

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Professional development goals for managers  manager your energy levels

5. Learn to manage your energy and stay positive

Similar to developing a multiplier mindset, as a leader, your mood is one 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 everything, 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 making a big mess. This often goes hand in hand with having a crazy calendar that looks something like this:

Professional Development Goals for Managers

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
  • “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. So, teach your managers that it’s okay, and valuable, to take a break when needed. 

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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.

Their team won’t be able to thrive if they don’t believe they can develop new skills. They’ll also be held back if their manager isn’t learning the skills necessary to level up as a leader.

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. If you can get your managers to embrace reading, they’ll always be developing their skills.

To get them started, you can put together a curated list of the books that have helped you the most. You could also add two of our favorites: 

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 to learn more about managing and motivating people (something most managers get wrong in the beginning). 

In the book, he breaks down countless insights on how people work, what motivates them to act, and effective ways to influence others. 

The book includes lessons such as:

  • How to give praise
  • The power of listening, and 
  • How to motivate others

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 some of the original terms, such as the multiplier mindset, and 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.

One last note: 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.

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Professional Development Goals for Managers

7. Be a great coach

Reading regularly is a powerful practice for leaders to level themselves up. Equally important and powerful is learning to become a coach to their team. 

As opposed to an individual contributor, your managers’ growth is learning how to grow their people. That’s why your managers must become coaches

This means being comfortable talking with their people about their goals and determining small steps to help them achieve those goals over time. 

If their team succeeds, so do they. If their team fails… you get the idea. 

By becoming more of a coach, they’ll also motivate their team. 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:

By being a coach to them, you’re taking a personal interest in helping them achieve their goals and improvement. That also helps build trust as they see that you care about their success. 

This is especially important if your manager can’t promote many on their team. It will give their employees a different, but often equally powerful, sense of progress beyond 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.

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Professional Development Goals for Managers

8. Identify future leaders

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

This all depends on how your company is run, but if it’s in your power, it’s worth considering promoting from within. There is risk, but great rewards from promoting key employees who already know your company, your values, and likely many of those 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 having consistent one on ones with those new managers
  • Failing to provide leadership training to prepare future managers before taking the position

Once you feel a manager you’re coaching is in a position to start promoting their first manager(s) soon, set a goal with them of identifying a few people on their team as potential future leaders. Challenge them why and ask them to float the idea with each person to see how it goes.

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

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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.

So, to keep the learning going, check out these posts for further reading:

And if you want to create a shared language and set of habits for all your managers, then check out our software, Lighthouse.

We organize all your 1 on 1s in one place, and give you a simple framework to help make the most of these meetings through better questions to ask, easy followup and accountability, and a lot more built with you in mind.

We can even help you have awesome skip level 1 on 1s, and support your leaders if they have questions as they manage their teams.

See for yourself by starting your free, 21-day trial here.

Manager of managers