NOT ALL MANAGERS ARE CREATED EQUAL

“We are all flawed, but basically effective managers are people whose flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. Maybe the best managers are simply ordinary, healthy people who are not too screwed up”.
Canadian academic and author Henry Mintzberg

I have interviewed, hired and/or rejected, hundreds of managers during my career, from first level young potentials to possible CEOs and Board members, and have realised that no matter how experienced they may initially appear, they can come in many guises, including some that need to be quickly disqualified from consideration for employment, no matter how good they may look on the surface. (see “Why are so many managers so bad at recruiting” posted December 12, 2011).

The problem is that it is never easy to totally and accurately measure how well someone will do in a new management role, no matter how well they have done in previous senior roles, even if there are roles that they have held in the past that appear to be similar to the one you are currently trying to fill. As we all know, CVs can be somewhat embellished with some artistic freedoms and some judicious re-engineering, and there are some people who look great on paper and present themselves really well, but who are really a well-developed facade with very little solid structure supporting the attractive visible front.

Author: Rkwriting (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rkwriting (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Here are a few of these that I have come across in my time, and that one needs to look out for:

The 2-year cycler … On the surface, from their CV, they may look like they have 20 years of experience, but in reality they actually have only 2 years of experience repeated 10 times. These people have the ability to come in, stir everything up and drive change, but cannot sustain the momentum so run out of steam after about 2 years. The IT industry is full of people like this, as the industry has grown so quickly over the last 50 years that many people have never had to live with their own implementations and could just move on and start all over again before being seriously tested. Unless you have a 2-year assignment for them, don’t bother.

The empty suit … Looks the part and says the right things, but has an extremely shallow set of management skills and capabilities. This is the sort of person who works harder on looking as though they belong in the role rather than on actually doing the job. I once, in error, promoted a national sales manager to the role of MD. He immediately upgraded his suits and ties, whipped up his travel to first class and his hotel accommodation to suites, but changed nothing else in the way that he did the job, thus continuing to fulfil the function of the sales manager without taking up any of the responsibilities of a CEO, but he sure looked good while the business stalled.

Author: Argenberg; https://www.flickr.com/photos/argenberg/308888568/sizes/m/in/photostream/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Argenberg; https://www.flickr.com/photos/argenberg/308888568/sizes/m/in/photostream/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The gift to mankind … Presents himself as the great saviour and the great leader. One interviewee described himself to me thus “I am very inspirational and a brilliant public speaker”. I decided to test him on his self-perception, so told him he had 5 minutes to prepare an impromptu speech on his view of “The meaning of life” and left the room for a cup of coffee. When I came back 5 minutes later he launched into a platitude-filled meaningless ramble which was far from brilliant and not at all inspirational, with really old hackneyed expressions like “I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”. I have found that really great people don’t have to tell you of their greatness, in the same way that I am always suspicious of people who have to tell me how intelligent they are. Mensa members please take note.

The Engineer … I am always nervous about people who believe that it is all about the product rather than being about the people. I have no really serious issues with managers with an engineering background, though I do use them as a regular source of humour (see “Teaching old dogs new tricks” posted June 20, 2010), but I do sometimes struggle with senior managers in Europe who still believe that product is the main competitive advantage rather than having passionate, committed and self-driven people who understand what has to be done and how to go about doing it.

The seen-it-all-before … This is the “I’ve been everywhere, man” (made famous by Johnny Cash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmFN9C9PVpg ). I have come across candidates in a recruitment process who have tried to convince me that the reason that I should hire them is that they have done everything, and seen everything that exists in their environment. As I have a strong belief that the right attitude is more along the lines of Randy Bachman’s “You aint seen nothing yet”, I have little time for people who believe that there is little left for them to learn, see or do. Learning is a life-long journey not a destination, and people who do not understand this do not deserve consideration for a senior role.

The sound-biter … Perhaps driven by the need to say something memorable in a 30-second TV news clip, I am surprised by the number of people who have forsaken the need to say something original and meaningful in their own words, for the convenience of dropping some sound bites. I once had a candidate tell me that “Leaders do the right thing whereas Mangers do the thing right” as being part of his personal philosophy. He went all a-dither when I asked him to explain to me what that actually meant for him, but in his own words. For much the same reason I have always looked somewhat suspiciously at people who see “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese” as being great works of management insight, rather than being just some interesting brochures. Being a successful leader and/or manager is a tough role to fill, and is not for the simple-minded.

Author: Andre Engels; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Andre Engels; via Wikimedia Commons


The recruitment process is one of the most critical elements of any manager’s role, and having the best people in place to provide leadership and direction to great people everywhere in any organisation is the key driver of success.

As said by American business consultant and author Jim Collins “People are not your most important asset. The RIGHT people are.”

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8 Responses to NOT ALL MANAGERS ARE CREATED EQUAL

  1. Bharathi Srinivasan says:

    I understand what is not ok.. through this post but keen to understand the positives. That is what will help in recruiting the “Right” people.

  2. Pam Seplow says:

    Les, I am guessing that the interviewee who needed to do the 5 minute speach on the meaning of life would have had a better outcome if he just said page 42 and left it at that. In all seriousness what really resonated with me is your comment that being a successful manager is a tough role to fill and not for the simple-minded. Lately I feel as though too many companies have lost sight of this fact and do not put enough emphasis on the profession of management and expect people to do this as their part-time job on top of everything else and then are surprised with the results they get.

    As always, thought provoking insights

    • leshayman says:

      Pam, you are right … Quoting the Hitchhikers Guide to me would have at least proved that he reads. I have always believed that “life is hard but management is harder” 🙂 Les

  3. Mimi says:

    Les, I hear the last line so often but this one resonates. Thanks for sharing and your quotes are one of my favorite parts of the blogs.

  4. Bravo! Great reminiscing on disastrous interviews… You missed out “The Liar” – everyone can exaggerate a little on resumes, but it can get out of hand. Once I needed to cut an interview short by saying “I am not sure that here is any point in carrying on” when it was clear that much of the resume was pure fabrication.
    Also: 100% agree with the comment on anyone who needs to tell you how intelligent they are, and finally someone who is not afraid to debunk “Who moved my cheese”!

    • leshayman says:

      Simon, I know what you mean about the “Liar”. I once had an interviewee describe his current role as one I knew first-hand was being filled by someone else. On your other point, I see books like “cheese” as being peurile. I can’t believe people think that being told in a pamphlet to “get off their arse” to succeed/survive is enlightening. Les

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