Hiring for company-wide cultural fit is important. But perhaps more critical is matching the work styles of hopeful employees to the managerial styles of their bosses. Here's how.


A few years ago, the CEO of a high-tech software company asked me to augment a planned training session with a segment based on Blanchard's Situational Leadership model. The company's managers had just taken a two-day course on this subject, and the CEO wanted to help them better manage new hires.

I read the book and quickly concluded the idea wouldn't fly. The big problem: I didn't see how managers could modify their leadership style to meet the coaching and training needs of each new hire. Instead, I suggested hiring people who already fit their future boss's approach to management. I later called this concept Managerial Fit and described the process in The Essential Guide for Hiring.


The candidate assessment starts by first categorizing managers into six basic styles based on how hands-on or hands-off they are. During the interview, candidates are categorized into six companion styles based on how much support and direction they want and/or need. The two styles are then compared to determine their Managerial Fit.

Basic Managerial Styles: How Managers Manage Their Team Members

Some managers overdo it. Others don't do it at all. As you read the following descriptions, position yourself and/or your manager on the grid from very controlling on the left to largely uninvolved on the right. Most managers have one dominant style but are flexible enough to deal with situations that require adjacent styles. For example, coaches can normally become trainers or delegators as necessary.

1. Controller: This is the directive micromanager style that oozes "my way or the highway."

2. Supervisor: These people need to tightly control a repeatable process using metrics and constant follow-up.

3. Trainer: These managers excel when working closely with people to teach them new skills. The best have the ability to back off and let people learn on their own.

4. Coach: These managers tend to work best with people who have most of the skills needed to do the job, but they are more than willing to coach them through new or problem areas. On an ongoing basis, they provide regular guidance, support, and feedback.

5. Delegator: These managers provide broad direction and regular feedback. They typically agree on the results needed but leave the detailed process up to the person.

6. Hands-Off: These managers tend to provide very little direction and limited feedback. They won’t intervene unless things go awry.

When interviewing people for management positions, I ask candidates who they like to hire and why. This allows me to assign them into one or more of these categories.

Typical Subordinate Styles: How Staff Members Need and/or Like to Be Managed

Some people need more direction than others and some want more than others. When I ask candidates to describe their major accomplishments and where they’ve excelled, I find the role the manager played. Patterns quickly emerge, depending on how much support, direction, and training the person needs.

1. Dependent: These people need constant direction, follow-up, support, and handholding.

2. StructuredThese people perform best when required to do repeatable tasks on a continual basis.

3. Trainable: These people have the ability to learn and apply new skills but need extra support and coaching before they're left on their own.

4. Coachable: These people have the basic skills but are more than willing to take direction in areas where improvement is needed.

5. Manageable: These people prefer to be given lots of leeway in how the work needs to be done but are very amenable to support during the planning phase and in reviewing results.

6. Independent: These people prefer to be given broad direction and full responsibility for achieving the agreed upon result.

Managerial Fit problems occur when the manager's style does not complement the subordinate's needs or wants in terms of training, direction, and support. Problems occur on the extremes, or where the manager or subordinate isn’t flexible. For example, a very controlling manager hiring someone who requires more independence is a recipe for frustration and underperformance. Expect similar problems with a strong delegator-style manager who hires someone who needs extra coaching and direction.

Otherwise good people tend to underperform for three big reasons: the work itself isn't appealing or motivating, or they don’t get along with their manager.

Good managers underperform when using a skills-based job description to define the work, which leads to hiring people who aren't motivated to do the work since it wasn't clarified properly, or demotivating these same people by over- or under-managing them. Managers control the complete solution. Defining the work upfront using a performance-based job description will solve the first problem. Conducting a performance-based interview will solve the second. And even if the person isn't a perfect manager, understanding Managerial Fit will minimize the third.

Not doing anything won't help a bit.