Managers: Magic or Mess…3

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu

2016-02-10 15.24.09

Post 3: As Suzie pulled into the parking lot at work the next morning, she got a text from Peter with a link for her to follow. She smiled as she reviewed it before getting out of her car. The Gallup article absolutely contained talents that were common to great managers and would hopefully influence good results by engaging employees. “Yes!! Lunch?” was her text response.

“Well, your geek skills came through again,” she said as she put her lunch on the table and opened the article on her phone.
“I really like this list of talents, and I think that you are right about my communication strengths and your organization skills making us a good team. I can see where I’ve learned from you over the last couple of years; like about how to use data to drive decisions and move resistance and how processes can create accountability. And I know you’ve used me as a resource too. I remember when you used to always run your change announcements by me to see if your team would understand and get behind them.”

“I still like to get your input on tricky conversations; I tend to step in it with my bluntness.” Peter grimaced, “But if we bring on a new leader, they won’t have time to learn by trial and error like we did. Read that list out loud and let’s talk about how we might identify those traits in candidates.”

From the article Suzie read, “Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Very few people can pull off all five of these requirements of good management. Most managers end up with team members who, at best, are indifferent toward their work — or, at worst, are hell-bent on spreading their negativity to colleagues and customers.”

Peter and Suzie discussed a few of their supervisor candidates and the type of behavioral questions that might get people to share their skills accurately in an interview. The conversation soon turned to the need for a business-wide strategy for hiring strong managers. Suzie began to plan, “I think Sandy could help us with some good questions, and she could probably even set up a training for leaders on the interview skills needed.”

“True,” Peter added, reaching for the article on Suzie’s phone, “and here’s a cool stat that we can use while we’re bringing the idea of building a strategy to Uncle Charlie: ‘When companies can increase their number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees, they achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.’ I’m sending this as an agenda item for Thursday’s staff meeting right now. By then, we’ll have a solid plan and can sell it easily. I know of at least two other people who are about to post for leader positions!”

Reality: Conjuring the ‘magic of managing’ requires a strategy. Without a plan that ensures managers have the right skill-set before taking their positions, many businesses exhaust employees and reduce results by selecting  subject matter experts, personalities, friends and sometimes even insecure bullies who try to ‘manage’ but leave a mess.


Anyone interviewing for a management position should be able to tell about their leadership experience.  Remember that leading business teams is not the only way to develop managerial talent: civic, church, community volunteers, and non-profit leadership opportunities can demonstrate the same skills.  Behavioral interviews can help interviewers learn more about what behaviors the candidate has used – or not used.

Behavioral interview tips:

  • Listen for the BEHAVIORS they used; they couldn’t control others’ responses – only their own. (Ask them to describe specific situations to limit creative grandstanding.)
  • Let the candidate pause in silence to remember the best example to share.
  • Don’t comment on the question to give hints; if asked to repeat it, repeat it exactly.
  • Listen for the results of their story; ask for the result if it is not offered, but realize their behavior may be positive even if the results were not.
  • Get training on behavioral interviewing if you have the opportunity!

Below are behavioral style interview questions meant to solicit descriptions of manager talent. Decide which questions reflect on which talents from Suzie’s list above. (Also included below are tips on how to listen to identify talent.):

  • “Tell us about a time you were able to motivate a person to move past their resistance and take an action to help themselves or the group.” (Listen for how they aligned their influencing efforts to the individual’s specific interests, motivations or goals.)
  • “Tell us about a group you’ve led and about a time you motivated them to participate in an activity in spite of their hesitation or questioning.” (Listen for the way they inspire or influence groups of individuals; do they communicate their situation clearly?)
  • “Describe your perception of ‘accountability’ in business and how you have used it effectively in the execution of initiatives.” (Listen for behaviors between the extremes of trusting blindly and dominating others; listen for examples of healthy accountability that might involve using reports, processes, checks & balances or regular review of employee metrics.)
  • “Tell us of a time when business results were not progressing as expected, and you took initiative that led to a more positive direction.” (Listen for their strategy to ethically, respectfully and wisely risk in order to gain a positive result for the business or team.)
  • “In leadership we often find people who initially do not trust us just because of our title or because we had to make a decision they did not understand. When you discover this, what is your strategy for building or rebuilding their trust?” (Listen for a plan that requires them to take the responsibility to consistently behave in a way that helps the other person believe them to be trustworthy. Answers that prioritize making the person a friend, bribing or coercing their support, or trying to convince them they should be trusted may signal a weakness in transparent relationship building.)
  • “Tell us about a time you made a decision or delivered a message you knew would not be popular with your leaders or peers, but you chose to deliver it anyway.” (Listen for the real risk involved, for the wisdom in their communication strategy, and if the impact of their decision was for the group or for just themselves.)

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