Average managers are satisfied with good performance. Top performing managers won't settle for anything less than exceptional results, and they understand that the responsibility for change rests with them as the manager. Whether you're running an industry giant or a small start up business, don't think that you have to be raking in billions or making radical technological advances to prove yourself as an exceptional leader. Author Jim Collins, in his management study "Good to Great," found that some of the most extraordinary leaders ran companies that appeared "dowdy" and uninteresting.
Forget the stereotypical ideas of a leader. Extraverted, flashy examples of great leadership are not necessarily the best examples of top performing managers, even though they tend to be the most prominent. In fact, the top managers tend to be people you might not even notice -- until their achievements are too overwhelming to ignore. Top performing managers are humble. Their top priority is the company, and they focus on the company's success rather than their own.
Great managers are unlikely to believe in the idea of a quick fix. They know that shortcuts for hard work don't exist, and they are prepared to put in the effort to succeed over the long term. Top performing managers are unlikely to give up when they experience setbacks. Instead, the top performer will critically examine what went wrong and what part he had to play in the failure. The top performer won't blame others for mistakes, but will analyze his own behavior to identify potential improvements.
In a survey of more than 80,000 managers, followed with several more in-depth studies, leadership consultant Marcus Buckingham determined that "good managers play checkers; great managers play chess." While good managers use the skills of the workforce to move in a common direction toward shared goals, top performers leveraged the individual skills of each employee for the best possible performance. Top managers take a win-win approach, looking to make the best match of human resources and company strategy for the ultimate competitive advantage.
In some cases, what takes a certain manager from a good performer to a top performer isn't necessarily a trait innate to the manager, but the ability of the leader to adapt his behavior to that of his subordinates. In other cases it may depend on whether the manager has the fortune to be matched with workers who complement his natural style. In a study of pizza companies, Wharton professor Adam Grant found that performance and productivity was directly affected by the workplace dynamics. Proactive, motivated workers performed better with a less-extroverted leader who allowed employees to provide input and drive the work process. Conversely, an extroverted leader was more successful directing the operations of a passive work group.