Why is it so hard to hire, train, or be a great leader? It shouldn’t be so difficult, but it is. Most managers learn to manage either by watching a really great manager or, more often, a really bad one. I definitely learned from the latter. I had lots of bad managers, and a few really great ones, and now, twenty-one years after I began my management career, I have some advice on how we can choose, train, and empower those in our leadership roles and stop losing good people because of bad managers.
Plus, wouldn’t it be great if your manager and your team were so strong that you could actually let your business run for a week while you were in the Bahamas? Well that only happens if you take finding and developing a great manager seriously.
Identify Management Potential
In most retail settings, and business settings in general, we promote people for the wrong reason. We make an employee the manager because they are exceptional at their job. When I managed at a large retailer, I was guilty of that. I thought, “Hey, this person is a phenomenal sales person, I am sure they will be a great manager!” I could not have been more wrong.
So, if not just picking our best baristas to manage a café, then what should we be looking for?
I learned to simply ask the person if they want to be a manager. I looked for someone who was excited about their current role and repeatedly asked for more duties, or just took initiative and did more than was asked of them. A forgotten but obvious resource is the candidates’ original job application and resume. Do they have any prior management experience that I overlooked or forgot about, or did they offer any insight as to their future goals? I thank one of my favorite managers for this simple but brilliant insight, because it allows you to see if an employee has the drive to grow or if another company may have trained them for you.
Start by handing off some easy management duties, like leading closing or training a coworker to properly steam milk, and see how they perform. If they do well and are hungry for more, you may have a good candidate on your hands. Next, look at how they handle any customer complaints. This is a good window into how they will deal with conflict in a leadership role. Are they able to easily diffuse the situation? Are they keenly capable at making an unhappy customer happy? These are good indicators of communication and relationship skills, both necessary to be a great manager.
Start by handing off some easy management duties, like leading closing or training a coworker to properly steam milk, and see how they perform.
Another critical detail many café owners miss: are they nice? How many of you have had a jerk for a manager, that person who doesn’t care at all about you, just about the bottom line or their own authority. I know I have. Your manager needs to have emotional intelligence. Your managers need to be able to work with other people and genuinely care about them, not just focus on the tasks that need to be completed. Look for someone who the rest of your team actually wants to work with. That can be a smooth transition into someone that they actually want to work for.
“Communication is key” is an old adage for a reason. Can your potential manager communicate? One thing all truly great managers and leaders have in common is their excellent ability to communicate. Everything about management requires communication. They have to be able to convey the why behind the what. They have to be able to delegate. They have to be able to articulate your vision and expectations for the way your business is to operate. Without communication, the manager perishes. And then so does your team.
Let’s take a pause in our search, and look at your own management and communication. Are you a good communicator? You must be able to spell out the vision for your company, and to describe and demonstrate the core behaviors you expect from all your employees. Do you have a vision and core behaviors spelled out for your business? If you don’t, do that before you hire a manager. Or if you already have a management team in place, step back and create your vision and core behaviors. There is no way you can expect someone to effectively lead your company if you cannot convey to them the end results you’re wanting to achieve. It is never too late to do this. These goals should govern every decision you make, and every decision made by your team. It is the best and fastest way to course correct and get your ship headed in the right direction.
You Promoted Them, Now What?
You’ve identified an employee who is motivated, wants to lead, and has the emotional intelligence to do it well. Now you have to put in the effort to develop them! You can’t just promote them, give them the keys to the shop, and go on your merry way.
This happened to me in my very first management role. I was nineteen. I was a selling machine. I was a pretty good communicator. I always demonstrated enthusiasm for my current role and craved more responsibility. I would like to think I was pretty nice and that my coworkers enjoyed working with me. But: I had no idea how to manage anyone! Yet, there I was, head of a staff of ten salespeople, holding the keys to the store. When I asked the owner to go over the duties and goals for my new position, I was told to write the schedule, make sure the team did their non-sales tasks, and make the sales goals. Oh, that’s it? How hard can that be? Apparently, a little harder than it looked.
I made a lot of mistakes. I tried to make everyone like me by doing their jobs for them, so no one took my orders seriously. I was over-reactionary and I didn’t triage problems or get full info before jumping in, so I looked (and was) frantic. I was young, which wouldn’t have been a problem, except I let my insecurity and need to be liked rob me of the power of effective communication. I was burning myself out and resenting my team. I wasn’t actually managing anyone. It was a recipe for disaster.
Back in 1993 when I was thrown into management, there were no TED Talks, no podcasts, and nobody had introduced me to Tony Robbins or John Maxwell yet. So I had to go it on my own. I had no mentor, no real example to follow, so I just made it up as I went along. Please, I beg of you, do not do that to your people. If you do, you are putting your business at risk. There are so many great books, and podcasts, and articles out there, you have no excuse to not develop your managers.
Most useful is a manager training outline. Create one yourself or make it easy and steal one off the internet, there are many out there. A good training outline details the responsibilities of the manager role, as well as a time frame to learn them. The time frame holds you and your new manager accountable for accomplishing the learning goals that you have outlined.
As you customize the outline, keep in mind that you have more than one option when you promote someone. You do not have to give them all of the responsibility right away. You could create a manager-in-training position, letting you give them little chunks of responsibilities to master. However, in a busy café setting, we are usually in a hurry to replace someone who left, so we tend not to have the luxury of time. In that case, it is even more important that you are very intentional about communicating and teaching the skills that will set your new manager up for success.
There are so many great books, and podcasts, and articles out there, you have no excuse to not develop your managers.
All this being said, if you do not naturally possess these skills (some business owners don’t and that’s OK), put someone else in charge of grooming your new manager. Enroll them in a program; buy a management book and read through a chapter a week and discuss how they can apply the concepts. Spending the time and, yes, money to grow your managers is one of the essential keys to the success of your coffee business.
For a new manager, it can be hard to step into the role of the manager if they were the coworker the day before. On the floor and behind the bar, it is crucial that you support them in front of their direct reports. Hold a company meeting to celebrate their promotion. This accomplishes multiple things, most importantly, it establishes their new authority and gives them the chance to address your team as a whole before they start delegating tasks and being the boss. It’s critical for the rest of the team to see that you have confidence in the person you have promoted. It’s also crucial that you praise them in public and coach them in private. Do not let their team see you question their decision making or actions, they will feel defeated and the team will lose trust and respect.
Can I Go On Vacation Yet?
You’ve chosen your manager wisely. You’ve done the research, spent the time and money, and developed a capable, motivated, and skillful manager, or at least one who is getting there. But you still have a hard time letting go of the reins and stepping away from your business—your baby—for any length of time. Some of that fear is just part of being a business owner. You have poured your money, sweat, and tears into getting this café up and running. You have spent countless hours behind that bar yourself, and now you have to trust someone else to do it for you while you’re away. Scary, right?
It is scary. But it’s necessary.
Now, I’m assuming you aren’t a crazy micromanager, that you just want to make sure you have the right person in place and you have given them the proper tools for success. You have to trust yourself that you have a manager who cares enough about your business and your people to make the right decisions for your business in your absence. If you’ve done the hard work of identifying a potential manager and developing their abilities, trust that they care about you, they absolutely care about the customer, and they care about the product they are serving to that customer. And then, you have to just do it. You have to leave. Will it be perfect while you are gone? No. Will they make mistakes? Yes. It’s what they and you do about those mistakes that matter in the long run.
Now it is time to trust them. And to trust yourself. Trusting and empowering your people is one of the biggest gifts you can give them. Empowering them, and then letting them make mistakes is even better. Empowering them, letting them make mistakes, and then using those mistakes as teachable moments is the best. You cannot be at your café twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In order for you to be the visionary, the entrepreneur, and to continually grow your business, you have to be able to step away from time to time. Otherwise you will be a burned-out, ineffective leader yourself.
Now, you have done all the things necessary to choose, develop, and trust. Your manager is fantastic.
By all means, go to the Bahamas!
—Kerry Miller is a business development representative for Dillanos Coffee Roasters.