How to weed out 'bad people managers' in interviews

By September 23, 2013Hiring & Recruiting
Hiring & Recruiting How to weed out 'bad people managers' in interviews

A once happy workplace is now tenuous. The department is fragmented. Everyone is gossiping and we’ve lost some great talent recently. It’s starting to look like a revolving door.

Does this sound familiar?

It could be the result of a “bad people manager.” It could be someone who is highly talented from a technical standpoint, but unable to inspire the team, or in a worst case scenario, is making life miserable for others. Such negative influence can have a profound impact on a work environment and a company’s bottom line.

This is why it’s important when interviewing someone for a leadership role that executives hire not only for technical skills, but also for leadership potential – to weed out “bad people managers.”

Great people management and visionary leadership starts with a state of mind.

According to Elisa Palombi, executive coach and partner at BIGLife Group, anyone can be a leader, but the distinction lies in whether a person is able and willing to step into their leadership capacity.

“Confidence is very important, having that self-assurance, knowing what you stand for, believing in your values – that’s what makes great leaders,” explains Palombi.

Gavin Robinson, president of Robinson Organizational Consulting agrees and says, speaking candidly, objectively, and with integrity is a must for great leaders.

“Relationship skills are much more critical to leadership and a company’s bottom line, than knowledge-based assets. Organizations across the board are gaining an appreciation of that,” he says.

In previous generations, leadership focused on IQ assessments, smart titles and letters behind your name. If you had an MBA for example, you were deemed to have great leadership potential. Palombi says this trend has changed drastically in recent years. “Today, social intelligence is much more important than an MBA for example, in assessing leadership capabilities.”

Robinson also notes: “You can train someone for a technical skill set, but that has very little correlation to how effective a person can be as a true leader.”

To build organizational leadership, first consider the three leadership pillars that candidates should have: 1) relatability (how good is this person at building rapport with others?); 2) authenticity (does this person “walk the talk?”); and 3) transparency (does this person have a “what you see is what you get” approach?).

Here are some tips to consider when hiring someone for a leadership role:

    1. How does the candidate treat people at various levels of the organization? Were they nice to your receptionist? Do they treat entry-level talent differently from senior level talent? This may indicate whether they can get people to work together, or if they may have a divisive effect.

    2. Does the candidate speak with clarity? Great leaders tend to be more clear, concise and articulate than others. They have inviting body language too – beyond what they are saying, it’s about how they are saying it. They are present, straightforward and confident.

    3. Look for behavior-based leadership. Ask questions like:

  • To focus on how a candidate brings people together: Tell me about a time when there was a conflict you had to resolve between two different departments. How did you get everyone onside?
  • To uncover a candidate’s leadership philosophy: For you, what makes a great leader versus a not-so-great leader?
  • To dig deeper on a candidate’s own leadership approach: Tell me about a leader in your previous company that you liked. What did they do that you liked and what would you have done differently?
  • To see if a candidate solicits candid feedback from his or her team: What do people like about you in a management role? What have you been told as a manager? Where do you need to improve?
  • To see if a candidate has thought through his/her future plans (because great leaders stay at least 2 or 3 steps ahead of their team, and that thinking must start with their own goals): Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Walk me through your process of how you will get there.

Great leaders need to keep people motivated, so this is the ultimate “skill” HR/hiring managers need to seek out for leaders in their organization.


Julie Labrie is President of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After 14 years of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie offers expertise in a number of recruitment areas including bilingual placements. She works closely with both business/HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process. Julie is part of a panel of leading HR experts for the Globe and Mail where she regularly offers her insights and expertise, and a regular contributor to Workopolis.

Get insights into the strategy and psychology of the hiring process on BlueSky’s HR Blog: blueskypersonnel.com/blog

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