Stop Hiring Terrible Managers


Hiring is one of the most serious activities you can do that will have a direct impact on the long-term success of your company. If you are hiring people who will make poor managers, or are already bad managers, you are actively hurting your company. The next question is how do you avoid hiring someone who is going to be a poor manager. In his article by Lou Adler we get some basic advice:

Here are some of the indicators for less experienced people who have the potential for management:

  1. Forget the “I” or “we” shortcut, instead look for people who are more proud of their team accomplishments. As you ask candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments look for a bias towards getting people to achieve a team result rather than an emphasis on individual contributor skills.  
  2. Volunteers or asks to lead team projects. Find out what type of projects the person has volunteered to do. Those with management aspirations and ability want to be involved in team projects in a leading capacity. If the person has been assigned to lead team projects, it’s a clue that others in the company think the person is also worth developing as a manager.
  3. Assigned to bigger and more important team projects. A track record of being assigned to expanding project roles indicates not only previous success but also upside potential.
  4. Proactively coaches others. Get examples of the person coaching other people who are peers. If the list is endless it’s an important clue the person enjoys helping others become stronger. This is a key trait of the best “coaching” managers.
  5. Assigned to multi-functional teams soon after starting with a new company. Find out how soon after starting with a company the person was assigned to work on an important multifunctional team. The sooner the better and less than six months is a great sign, especially if the person is working with important leaders in other departments and company executives.
  6. Hired by a former boss to take over an important team project. This is great evidence that the person is promotable.

If you are interviewing someone who is already a manager at their previous place of employment, you can’t just assume they were a great manager at that position, so what questions and which behaviors indicate a person is a good manager? Lou Adler has some additional advice on what to look for when conducting the interview:

  1. Comparable leadership skills. I define leadership as the ability to both visualize a solution to a complex problem and execute a successful solution. One way to assess this is to first engage in a back and forth discussion about how the person would handle a complex management challenge likely to be faced on the job. Make the problem increasingly complex to determine the point where the person’s thinking goes from specific to general. This represents the person’s current level of understanding. To validate the problem-solving skills ask the person to describe a past comparable accomplishment to determine ability to actually eliminate the problem. Both the thinking and execution responses need to map closely to real job needs.
  2. The quality of the teams they’ve built. Have candidates rank the quality of the people in their department. If they’re not strong find out why. If they are all strong find out the person’s grading system and how the team was hired and developed. It’s a great sign if the person has been able to attract previous co-workers.
  3. The process used to coach and develop their staff. Be concerned if a candidate doesn’t have even a rough development plan for each person on the team. If the candidate has one, determine how good it is.
  4. The trend of growth of the size of teams they’ve managed. A manager who has been promoted into bigger management jobs is a great sign. If it happens at multiple companies it’s even greater.
  5. Whether the person is more proud of management or individual contributor accomplishments. When I ask managers to describe their most significant accomplishments, I get very concerned when they describe an individual accomplishment. You should be, too.

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