Succession Planning – Choose Your Managers Wisely

Technical competence does not necessarily translate to good management skills. The importance of selecting, promoting, and training good management staff cannot be overstated, as highlighted by the following true story:

A young factory production worker with a number of years’ experience felt he had been slighted by management.  Though he was responsible for a growing family, he became a poor performing worker — management was looking for a reason to terminate his employment.  One day, right before lunch, a supervisor from a different department talked to the individual about his attitude.  Because of this brief 15 minute conversation with a “good” manager: 1) The young employee went from being a poor performer before lunch to being a top producer after lunch (capability was not the problem, attitude was); 2) Within 3 years he was reporting directly to the owner of the company; and 3) The company paid for his MBA and reaped the rewards of having a technically competent, company vested employee for many years.

In this case, a supervisor with poor management skills created an environment resulting in a poor performance attitude, while a supervisor with good management skills turned that attitude into top performance and years of increased benefit for the company.  Following is a list of characteristics to look for when selecting managers:

Technical Characteristics (3)

  • Can think strategically, engage in flexible problem solving, and work effectively with higher management
  • Quickly masters new technical and business knowledge
  • Hires talented people for his/her team


Personal Characteristics (6)

  • Has perseverance and focus in the face of obstacles
  • Is honorable and steadfast
  • Balances work priorities with personal life so that neither is neglected
  • Has an accurate picture of strengths and weaknesses and is willing to improve
  • Prefers quick and approximate actions to slow and precise ones in many management situations
  • Can behave in ways that are often seen as opposites.


Social Characteristics (7)

  • Knows how to build and maintain working relationships with coworkers and external parties
  • Delegates to subordinates effectively, broadens their opportunities, and acts with fairness toward them
  • Shows genuine interest in others and sensitivity to subordinates’ needs
  • Provides a challenging climate to encourage subordinates’ development
  • Acts decisively and fairly when dealing with problem subordinates
  • Accomplishes tasks through managing others
  • Displays warmth and a good sense of humor

Technical skills account for less than 20% of the noted characteristics.  Pay attention to personal and social attributes when selecting and training your managers.

Characteristics selected from:  C. D. McCauley, M. M. Lombardo, and C. J. Usher. (1989). Diagnosing Management Development Needs: An Instrument Based on How Managers Develop, Journal of Management, 15(3), 389–403.