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The Five Percent: Managers Who Take Ownership


Managers who take full responsibility with energy, humility, and pride are rare and valuable. They’re essential to success and growth. CEOs delegate tasks to other managers, but entrust goals to these energetic generalists.


On November 18, 2022, WBD convened a group of CEOs to try a structured networking discussion about finding, motivating, and retaining these critical members of their businesses. This initial focus group was enthusiastic about participating, learning from each other and strongly supported WBD creating more opportunities for this sort of interaction. 



Maurice Meyers, Bill Mitchell, Kevin Schuele, Jacob van der Kooy, Matt Wessel, Lance Walter, Derrick Van Mell


Topic question:  How can we retain and develop our high potential managers?


Discussion questions:

  1. Who’s a favorite high potential manager?
  2. How do you motivate them?
  3. How do you recruit for this kind of manager?


Rare and Valuable

One of the participants listed “Carl’s” qualities:  hard-working, pleasant demeanor, able to make work fun, a self-starter, a fearless problem-solver focused on results, someone whose people love to work for him.  Someone who not only fits the culture but embodies it. Someone who has the executive mindset: can look out more than 90 days.


As we went around the table, the CEOs described their own high performer using the same phrases and with the same pride in their voices. These are the managers who make all the difference and can be entrusted with a business line or unit.


Motivation Checklist

And each CEO said the same thing about motivating these “1 in 20” managers:  the rush of getting big things done. These are people naturally driven to become more efficient, more effective, more successful. Yes, they need recognition. And the CEOs need to nurture them and keep feeding them challenges. The energy and ethics of these 5% are infectious: their teams are the ones that are the most energized.


But ultimately, these managers have to become vested—literally vested—in the business. That’s not dilution, that’s expansion.


Hire Them on the Spot

How to spot these rare team members? None of the group said they could capture what they’re looking for in a job description.  One CEO said that if they find this kind of manager somewhere, they’ll hire them first and then find a place for them. They might meet them at a competitor, a supplier, or an industry event. They’re too valuable to pass up.


The Workgroup participants also knew the warning signs of a manager not up to big responsibilities. Poor organization ability, the need for reminders and micromanagement, the inability to get along with others and, worst of all, being gossips, purveyors of infectious negativity.


One CEO swears by personality tests to filter the good and not so good. He makes everyone take the same particular test and then studies the findings to assign the people to the right spots.


The One True Sign

All the CEOs noted a fascinating commonality: when asked what they did, these go-getters didn’t describe their work in terms of tasks and duties. Instead, they’d say, “I work for Company X.” They saw themselves as a proud part of something making a difference in the world. 




Next topic (chosen by the peers):  Managing Scale Change:  The personal and technical challenges of getting a lot bigger quickly.


WBD’s discussion groups are run in affiliation with The Center for Management Terms & Practices.  WBD is working to build a Community of Clients to share ideas, passion and resources for growing businesses, adding jobs, and strengthening our communities.  Contact Lance Walter to learn more: lwalter@wbd.org