Evaluating employees who want to become managers

by Michael Mata21 Oct 2016
An ambitious member of your team has asked to be promoted to manager. While your direct report might be a star performer, is he ready to lead others?

Trying to figure out if a direct report is solid management material isn’t always straightforward. “It requires different skills to manage than to be an individual contributor,” notes Anna Ranieri, executive coach and author of Connecting the Dots: Telling the Story to Advance Your Career. “And since you want your decision to promote to be the right one, you wonder, ‘How do I make a sure enough bet?’”

What managers need to pay attention to is behavioural evidence that the person has the potential and ability to manage others. By applying the following tips during the evaluation phase, you can better assess if the person has the right attitude and skills to do the job.  

Gauge motivation
A good starting point is to determine the employee’s motivation for going after the management position. Some employees assume they’re entitled to a promotion after years of hard work and dedication to the company. Others may be attracted to the power, prestige, and salary bump.

Ranieri recommends asking direct reports why they’re interested in moving up the career ladder. Future managers need to possess the right motivation to lead—which is the desire to positively shape the direction of the organisation and coach others, not boss them around.

Assess experience
Managers should find out if the employee has any leadership experience. Whether it’s coaching a softball team on weekends or editing a journal, find out if the employee has direct experience in leading and inspiring others. An employee who heads campaigns for nonprofits on weekends may have a knack for mobilising others and guiding groups towards a common goal.  

Gauge competency
Ask the employee probing questions to gauge if he recognises the traits that are needed to be successful at the job. For example, you could ask him to name managers in your organisation whom he thinks are doing a good job of managing their teams. Ask him to identify each manager’s strengths as well as areas they could improve on. If he recognises the traits that make managers successful at the job, there’s a strong probability he will be successful in this role as well.   

Heed red flags
During the evaluation process, don’t forget to pay attention to red flags. Beware of those who aren’t open to constructive feedback, have difficulty seeing others’ points of view, or have an unwillingness to take on new challenges.  

Character defects like narcissism (“I’m smarter and better than other people and they should know it”) and meanness should automatically disqualify candidates from managerial positions.

According to Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School, it’s best to promote candidates who possess ethical traits. “You want leaders who give credit freely, who acknowledge the achievements of others, who don’t punish people for their foibles, and who are willing to help,” she said.