Hiring managers from within your own ranks is generally a good idea, but it’s easy to confuse length of employment as the leading qualification and miss seeing other key traits that are more important.
If you’re willing to not default to first-hired-first-promoted management practices, there are some key traits to look for in an employee you’re considering for management.
1. They are already a de facto manager.
There are some people who seem to be natural leaders. If you notice someone that other employees tend to go to for help or answers, those employees have unconsciously signaled that they trust their leadership and problem-solving skills.
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2. They get along with people.
Consider that half of all employees leave a job to get away from their manager, i.e. a person they don’t want to be around for whatever reason.
It’s no small thing to find an employee that gets along with others. This doesn’t mean they are some kind of doormat or yes-man (not a good managerial quality by any means), but that they have a gift for working with others instead of against them.
3. They are self-motivated.
A self-motivated employee is one that doesn’t constantly need to be told what to do. They have a big-picture view of the job. They see how the moving parts fit together, and they naturally tackle the work it takes to make sure everything works together well.
The alternative? The employee that says “that’s not my job” and won’t do anything unless specifically told to.
4. They have the right attitude.
An employee who merely clocks in at the job to get the paycheck is not manager quality. For them, the job is a means to an end (money), and not an enjoyable challenge that they want to succeed at.
Any employee might swear up and down that, for a bigger manager’s salary, they’ll do the job, but the reality is there’s an attitude that needs to be present at the get-go. Their attitude in the small things will be the same as their attitude in the big things.
5. They are engaged at work.
Only about 33% of employees say that they are engaged at work. That’s a problem.
Unengaged employees lack enthusiasm and attention to detail, and their apathy tends to lead to quitting. You need a manager to model engaged behavior, and who can also entice others to stay engaged (i.e. to care). Any employee that isn’t engaged now isn’t going to suddenly care once they become a manager.
6. They like to learn.
A manager is always learning, whether it’s new technology, trends, or trade secrets. Employees that have a thirst to learn at every chance they get to have a natural inclination in the right direction.
7. They volunteer for the tough jobs.
Being a great manager means sometimes ending up with the job no one wants to do. After all, you lead by example. Employees that volunteer for or don’t shirk from tough jobs that others don’t want to do understand the value of hard work.
8. They lean towards the team rather than themselves.
Employees who aren’t management material fight for themselves. They are most concerned about the “mines”: my hours, my vacation, my rights, my benefit.
An employee who starts to see things from a manager’s viewpoint, however, sees in terms of the team. Listen to how they talk in group discussions and meetings. Listen for the use of language that indicates more concern for the team and the business than self.
9. They are good communicators.
Employees whose managers have regular meetings with them are three times more likely to be highly engaged at work.
If the employee is good at communicating (which includes the ability to listen) in all situations—high stress, casual, tense, light—they are ready to manage. Much of management hinges not on the ability to make up rules and crunch data, but to communicate what employees need to do based on that.
10. They dwell on solutions.
It’s easy to obsess about problems. Too many employees are happy to gather around and gripe about all that’s wrong. An employee who chooses to find solutions is a rare breed.
11. They seek out expert input.
A manager knows that all of the smarts aren’t in their possession and that their team is a valuable resource for knowledge. Look for an employee who knows when to ask, what to ask, and whom to ask, who doesn’t let pride get in the way of a needed solution.
12. They set goals for themselves.
Managers who help employees set goals have employees that are 17% more engaged. If you have an employee who can disseminate a situation and determine what personal goals are needed to accomplish what’s needed, they can help others do the same.
13. They don’t micromanage.
The micromanaging approach to life comes out whether a person is an actual manager or not. You don’t want to promote an employee who already has a tendency to muck about in the work or business of others because they think they can do it better. Micromanagers only get worse the more power they have.
This one is tricky. Sometimes employees have a difficult time transitioning into a hands-off manager position if they are used to doing the work that they now manage, so be sure to select someone who doesn’t show these tendencies at the outset.
14. They take responsibility.
We all do stupid things. Look for an employee who doesn’t make excuses or point fingers and owns up to their failures and mistakes. They admit what they’ve done and are able to handle the reprimand. Even better, they learn from it and make changes.
15. They have empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others. True empathy is rare. It is often mistaken for pity that creates action out of guilt. Even more rare is the person who can make smart management decisions because of (or in spite of) empathy.
16. They run towards leadership.
When you offer an employee a chance to lead, do they eagerly accept it or are they hesitant and try to explain why they aren’t ready? And even more important, how do they do in the actual role?
This is a stepped approach: when you think you have an employee who’s ready to step into a manager role, give them a chance to lead in small ways so they get a chance to try on leadership.
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17. They are professional.
What does it mean to be professional? They show up on time, wear the uniform, treat both customers and co-workers with respect, and are productive. They work for the business, and move in the direction of its success, instead of dragging their feet and begrudgingly doing the job with an eye on payday.
18. They have integrity.
Integrity. This is the final item, and it’s the capstone.
Remember: your employees follow as they are led. A dishonest manager leads to dishonest employees (or honest employees who quit). Dishonesty will cost you in tangible ways (theft, lost sales) and intangible ways (damaged reputation, fudged work hours).
If you can’t trust your employee, none of the other 17 items on this list will matter. You must be able to trust the employee to run the business when you aren’t around.
Hiring from within the ranks is logical, but can be tricky. There is a natural assumption that employees who have worked for you the longest should be the first to be promoted. That probably explains the 82% failure rate mentioned at the start of this article.
With that in mind, you can either choose to not rock the boat by following that path, or you can look at your employees with an eye towards manager quality (using this list) and make the choice that’s best for your company.
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