How to pick bosses who are likely to succeed

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“Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all of the rest — is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

That’s Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, introducing their “State of the American Workplace” report. He’s saying what most of us know. Bosses make a difference.

I like the term “boss” better than “manager.” I use it for a person is appointed to a position where he or she is responsible for the performance and well-being of a group. Others can lead or not as they choose. The boss has no choice, it’s part of the job. So how do you pick good ones?

Make finding good boss candidates part of the talent development process. Discuss it as a career option. Give people the opportunity to express interest.

Help the interested people try on the job. Most organizations have a number of temporary assignments where this can happen. That’s where a person discovers the one thing you can’t adequately describe in advance. If you become a boss, your destiny is in the hands of your team members.

Some people will hate that part. Being a boss is probably not for them. Give the rest more developmental assignments so you can answer the following questions.

  • Is the person willing to be accountable for team performance?
  • Does the person enjoy helping others succeed?
  • Does the person confront team members about poor behavior or performance?

Three “yes” answers tell you that the person is likely to make a good boss. But wise selection only gets you partway to success.

Provide training, coaching, and peer support to help the new boss transition to what is, in effect, a new career. Then continue to provide them forever. Evaluate bosses on how well they help the team and team members succeed.

The best thing you can do to improve engagement, retention, and profitability is to select, prepare and support people who are likely to be good bosses.

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