Is he your next middle manager?

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Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on the value of middle managers and ways to develop their potential.

Meet José. He is a good employee, follows protocols and directions, shows up for work on time and has a great track record of getting things done. Is he your next middle manager?

Maybe, but maybe not.

Promoting someone purely based on technical skills is a recipe for failure, says Jorge Estrada, leadership coach and trainer with Leadership Coaching International. “Just because an employee knows how to fix equipment and understands the routine does not mean he is middle-manager material.”

Think of it in terms of a basketball team; you would not necessarily make your best player the coach. “A mediocre milker may become the best milking-parlor manager, and the best milker may be the worst manager,” explains Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of agricultural management at Ohio State University.

Here is how to identify if your employees are middle-manager material.

1. Look for honesty

Eliminate workers from middle management consideration if they have had a history of not telling the truth about situations or events. You must be able to trust a person’s word if he is to be a successful member of your management team.

If the person does not have honesty and integrity, he is not middle-management potential, says Tom Fuhrmann, veterinarian and owner of DairyWorks, a management-consulting firm in Arizona.

2. Don’t get hung up on experience

Look for employees who work hard and are willing to go the extra mile. Also, consider whether they identify problems and bring possible solutions to you or your managers. These are key attitudes and actions of middle managers.

“Drive and determination are very difficult to grow if they don’t have it,” says Bob Milligan, senior consultant for Dairy Strategies, a dairy business consulting service.

Do not get hung up on whether or not the individual has experience. Sometimes, raw ambition is better than experience, says Fuhrmann.

An individual may come to you with little or no skills, but he might be your future middle manager because he has that drive, says Liz Doornink, co-owner and human resources manager for Jon-De Farms in Baldwin, Wis.

“We try and identify early on if an employee has the qualities needed to be a middle manager,” Doornink says. For instance, does the individual take on extra work? Does he stay late when needed? Does he show up on time every day? Does he tell the owners or managers when he sees a problem?

“How we answer these questions indicates whether or not a particular employee has a more aggressive attitude and could be a possible a middle manager,” Doornink adds.

3. Look for self-confidence

Does a particular employee ask questions as to why things are done a certain way? Does he suggest new ways of doing things?

“These are small tell-tale signs that indicate this person has potential for middle management,” says Fuhrmann.

Also, determine the person’s level of self-confidence. You want someone who is self-confident, without being cocky or egotistical, says Estrada.

This is a critical component of a middle manager. “We’ve had people attempt middle management, but then reverted back to their old position because they didn’t have the self-confidence needed,” says Doornink.

4. Check communication skills

Pay attention to how the potential candidate communicates. Does he listen with respect? Is he able to deal with conflict? When he speaks, does he speak clearly and confidently? Do others listen? Does he command attention? Answers to these questions are important to your decision.

Do not overlook potential candidates because of language. If an individual speaks English, this does not necessarily mean he is a potential middle manager. “If you choose someone solely because he speaks English, you could be picking the wrong person,” says Fuhrmann. “Leadership skills are more important than the ability to speak English. English can be taught.”

Finally, a middle manager needs to deal with people issues, cow issues and business simultaneously. Look for an individual who can keep several balls in the air at the same time without becoming overwhelmed.  

Do not overlook part-time employees

Pay attention to your part-time employees or students. One of them could be a future manager, says Liz Doornink, co-owner and human resources manager for Jon-De Farms in Baldwin, Wis. “If you don’t give them the time of day, you may be missing out. You just never know.”


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