We all know managers who aren’t too good at managing. The problem is that once a person is in a management spot he/she will get hired by other companies for his/her management experience. And as everyone who’s ever worked for a weak manager knows, there’s big difference between bad and good management experience.

Most of my multiple decade career as a recruiter was spent finding great managers. As part of our subsequent research we tracked many of these people, some for 10 or more years after they were first hired. During this period a number of traits stood out in the interview that predicted management success.

These can be found as part of the fact-finding involved when asking candidates to describe their most significant individual and management accomplishments as covered in the Lynda.com video.

Here are some of the indicators for less experienced people who have the potential for management:

  1. Forget the “I” or “we” shortcut, instead look for people who are more proud of their team accomplishments. As you ask candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments look for a bias towards getting people to achieve a team result rather than an emphasis on individual contributor skills.
  2. Volunteers or asks to lead team projects. Find out what type of projects the person has volunteered to do. Those with management aspirations and ability want to be involved in team projects in a leading capacity. If the person has been assigned to lead team projects, it’s a clue that others in the company think the person is also worth developing as a manager.
  3. Assigned to bigger and more important team projects. A track record of being assigned to expanding project roles indicates not only previous success but also upside potential.
  4. Proactively coaches others. Get examples of the person coaching other people who are peers. If the list is endless it’s an important clue the person enjoys helping others become stronger. This is a key trait of the best “coaching” managers.
  5. Assigned to multi-functional teams soon after starting with a new company. Find out how soon after starting with a company the person was assigned to work on an important multifunctional team. The sooner the better and less than six months is a great sign, especially if the person is working with important leaders in other departments and company executives.
  6. Hired by a former boss to take over an important team project. This is great evidence that the person is promotable.

When interviewing experienced managers, look for these clues to assess the quality of their management skills.

  1. Comparable leadership skills. I define leadership as the ability to both visualize a solution to a complex problem and execute a successful solution. One way to assess this is to first engage in a back and forth discussion about how the person would handle a complex management challenge likely to be faced on the job. Make the problem increasingly complex to determine the point where the person’s thinking goes from specific to general. This represents the person’s current level of understanding. To validate the problem-solving skills ask the person to describe a past comparable accomplishment to determine ability to actually eliminate the problem. Both the thinking and execution responses need to map closely to real job needs.
  2. The quality of the teams they’ve built. Have candidates rank the quality of the people in their department. If they’re not strong find out why. If they are all strong find out the person’s grading system and how the team was hired and developed. It’s a great sign if the person has been able to attract previous co-workers.
  3. The process used to coach and develop their staff. Be concerned if a candidate doesn’t have even a rough development plan for each person on the team. If the candidate has one, determine how good it is.
  4. The trend of growth of the size of teams they’ve managed. A manager who has been promoted into bigger management jobs is a great sign. If it happens at multiple companies it’s even greater.
  5. Whether the person is more proud of management or individual contributor accomplishments. When I ask managers to describe their most significant accomplishments, I get very concerned when they describe an individual accomplishment. You should be, too.

These questions alone give you ample evidence if the person is worth promoting into a management role or hiring someone into a management role from the outside. It's important to make the assessment in comparison to the open position in terms of scope, span of control, the quality of the people currently on the team and their development needs. While it takes hours to do this properly, it’s worth the effort when you consider the devastating impact of hiring a weak manager.