Great managers come in many personalities and leadership styles. Introverted or gregarious, zany or straight-laced, procedural or easy going, all have the potential to lead their teams to success through their unique approaches. Despite their differences, however, some managers share traits that set them above the rest and make them great managers.
If you are in the process of hiring a new manager, you know it can be difficult to screen for managerial qualities in the sea of candidates. Every organization and position requires a different blend of technical skill, culture fit, and prior experience. And while these elements are important, we actually think that the secret sauce to a great manager is found in five key traits shared across companies and departments.
So, what are the qualities of a great manager? Here are five that we think you should look for and how to screen for them during the hiring process.
1. Coaching (shout out to our favorite coach Ted Lasso)
Coaching is a management skill used to work with people’s strengths and weaknesses to help them in their role. When a manager employs her ability to coach, she is focusing on her employees’ potential and working with their goals for development. A great coach develops her team members to bring out the best in them by providing the support, validation, feedback, and correction that they need.
This is an important leadership skill because it provides the team with a driving force to work cohesively toward a shared vision. The best managers know that developing their employees will strengthen the employee-manager relationship and boost employee morale, not to mention improve performance outcomes and help with recruiting efforts and overall retention.
How to screen for coaching skills: Situational interview questions are useful because they ask the candidate to think critically about when they have encountered a similar situation and actions they actually took at the time (rather than answering hypothetically). Instead of asking a candidate “What is your attitude about coaching employees?” or “What does coaching employees mean to you?” try asking “Tell me about how you set individual or team goals with your employees” or “Tell me how you handled an employee on your team who was not meeting their metrics.”
Most interviews ask candidates to discuss their ability to speak in front of groups or to provide a writing sample to prove their abilities on paper, but being a good communicator is about much more than good grammar or saying “um”. A good communicator listens and internalizes what is being said. The best communicators know their audience and how to connect with them at the most meaningful time and place. And, a good communicator is able to speak clearly with confidence.
Managers need to be effective communicators to avoid misinformation and confusion. Managers are at the frontline, leading changes decided by upper management. They need to understand how company decisions were made to share the vision of forward progress with their employees, and they need to be able to do so with optimism because employees tend to be change resistant.
How to screen for it: If you are screening for communication skills, notice whether the candidate answers the questions you are asking them or just talking. Are they answering all parts of your questions and are they able to effectively tell stories and express ideas in an appropriate amount of time? If you want a concrete question to ask, use, “Tell me about a time where you had to inform your team about an unpopular change. How did you manage that situation and what was the outcome?” or “Tell me about a time there was a communication breakdown. What happened and how was it resolved?”
Have you ever been micromanaged on a project to the point that it becomes belittling? You want to yell, “I know this is important, can’t you just trust me to complete it well?” A good manager is deliberate about delegating tasks because he knows that it empowers his employees.
To be an empowering manager, your candidate needs to have strong personal integrity that inspires others. He needs to live the organization’s vision to be able to share it by example. He then needs to allow room on the path to success for the employees to contribute towards it. This is accomplished by both delegating tasks with trust in employees’ capabilities, and by rewarding employee efforts and successes. By allowing employees to take on new challenges, managers encourage creativity as employees are empowered in their own ideas.
How to screen for it: Ask, “How have you built trust in your teams?” Follow it up with a more direct approach if necessary, “What is your approach to delegating responsibilities within your teams?”
We can’t control how long someone stays at our company, but it is common sense to screen out individuals who plan on finding another position soon. Someone who is only in a leadership position for a few months before leaving can do much more harm than good as any projects they undertake come to a halt and employee morale drops.
A manager with commitment to the job is going to be excited to invest their time, energy, and meaning to the success of a vision. They are going to take on responsibility and show that they are a leader who is worth following. They will also provide an exit strategy and train others to take on their responsibility should they decide to move to another position at a future date. This trait may be more intangible, but it is potently seen rather than heard. A committed leader provides a team vision worth following, an uncommitted leader fosters a negative team environment.
How to screen for it: If the candidate appears too good to be true, they probably are. Candidates who had a grander job title or many more responsibilities than the one you are hiring for shouldn’t be disqualified, but they are suspect. Ask them directly for their thoughts about having a smaller team with fewer responsibilities. If their attitude is that their presence would be a gift to your organization or that they are overqualified for the role but okay taking it, that is a red flag. Instead, try to find someone who is excited for the job so that they can make improvement to themself as well as the organization.
A mediator is someone who can arbitrate conflict in the workplace. This means that you should not hire someone who is going to shy away from problem-solving or shrink in the face of conflict. As a manager, your hire will be in the position of representing the best interest of the organization while also helping employees who will cause friction with it. Consequently, your manager will need to be able to stay calm, use their communication skills, and be empathetic so they can mitigate disagreements through balanced discussion. A mediator is also proficient at having difficult (i.e. disciplinary) conversations when needed, and furthermore able to inspire positive and productive results from those conversations.
How to screen for it: Ask, “Can you tell me about a time where there was conflict between two people on your team?” or “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a disciplinary action.”
Hiring is tricky, but finding a candidate who exhibits these five traits will not only get the job done but enhance the organization’s culture and employee experience. The success of a team is reliant on the competency of its manager; managers who coach their employees, communicate well, empower those around them, have commitment to the job, and can mediate conflict are the leaders that your organization needs.
If you have managers who could use some help in any of these areas, talk to us, we'd love to help; or, encourage them to sign up for a free Campfire session.