How to Recognize and Groom Potential Managers

Identifying and promoting the right leaders is critical to a company's success

Malhar Lakshman , Fri 27 January 2023
For many teams and managers, one of the greatest hurdles that they face is what happens in the absence of their current manager. After all, a manager is often able to unify the team, set common goals, and manage morale. However, another responsibility that managers should have is to develop leaders. Managers are often the first reference a direct report has towards promotion, especially if the report is interested in leadership. But how does a manager know who could be a good leader?

Why isn’t the MVP the best leader?

Not every worker is cut out to be a manager. A common fallacy within the professional world is to promote high-performing employees to positions of leadership. This oftentimes has resulted in poorly-performing managers, since they generally lack the skills associated with leadership. What brought them success might not necessarily be able to have the same result for other coworkers. In fact, Google conducted internal research and found that this was the number one overall pitfall with managers.

 Once a member of a team turns into a leader of a team, their selling point- which was the ability to complete their tasks- becomes somewhat irrelevant. They still may be asked to perform previously held duties, but their most important task is now leading and empowering their teams.

What skills does a good manager have?

 The best leaders often have a skillset specializing in soft skills, such as communication, empathy, people skills, and being a team leader. While some individuals happen to have these qualities, there is a difference between utilizing these from a peer-to-peer perspective versus that of a leader to subordinate perspective.  

 In addition to this, good managerial candidates are those who often try to improve circumstances for their peers and clients at the same time. This means that they strive for overall quality, as opposed to just making sure that their own component is satisfactory. A good leader should be able to also adapt with change. Throughout the past ten years, there have been many different phenomena such as COVID, The Great Recession, and a complete overhaul of how mental health is viewed in the workplace.  Managers have been forced to adapt how they handle both their work as well as personnel as a result of this.

 Emotional intelligence is also a quintessential part of a good manager. Professor John D. Mayer of the Harvard Business Review defined it as follows.

“From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.”

 Managers are in a position of power over other workers, and often hold a significant amount of sway in how they will affect their direct reports. Managers are often the unifying cog within a team as well, and if they are insecure, their team often follows suit. Therefore, they also must be able to recognize how their actions and emotions may affect others, and how they can influence their teammates.

So how does a manager recognize potential managerial candidates?

 The first thing to take note of is how hard a direct report works to ensure that their work is satisfactory. While it is indeed true as mentioned above that the best workers don’t always make the best manager, someone who is personally sloppy or constantly turning in unsatisfactory work may not necessarily be the best manager. Utilize tools such as AIM Insights to determine how their work is in terms of satisfaction and punctuality.

 AIM Insights can also tell you about the results of Direct Report 1:1s. A good manager should be holding regular 1:1s with their staff in addition to performance reviews. During these, you can find out how direct reports feel about each other. Is there a specific individual who all of their peers appear to look up to? Do they serve as a point of contact before the manager is contacted? Is there a sense of mutual respect? If so, consider looking at this person for managerial potential. Their individual 1:1s should also lend a lot of information. Someone who is willing to take credit for their work, but also split credit shows promise. Humility is a good value, since hubris can result in a negative impression with other coworkers.

 Ambition is also a good quality for a manager. Managers are often planning for the future, especially for organization-wide success. However, without the sense of delegation, they may face burnout, so prioritize that as well. 

 In order to help candidates achieve their potential, there are a few things to consider:

  • Educate these candidates- No entry level manager will be able to have every positive trait listed above, especially without prior managerial experience. Work with them and be a positive mentor for them. 
  • Give them gradual increases in responsibilities or temporary promotions- Temporary promotions can expose a direct report to a manager’s chair without anywhere near as much stress. This type of exposure can help pique their interests without overwhelming them. 
  • Regularly communicate with them about what they need to improve their likelihood of promotion- This can be critical in making a good manager. While they might feel that they are doing everything well to be a managerial candidate, only managers are truly aware of what  upper leadership is looking for in a manager. Therefore, take that extra step to help polish off rough edges to create a better manager.

Creating a manager doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and tedious process and starts with identifying a good candidate. After that, with some empathy and education, a team can be much better equipped for the future, with both an in-house managerial candidate, and one that knows them very well. 

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