Great companies are populated by great employees. While a top general manager is necessary, it's not sufficient for the genuine long-term success of any company or major operating division. Businesses that genuinely succeed and flourish over the long run have general managers who possess the vision, wisdom, and courage to identify, attract, hire, and mentor great assistant managers.
Mark is an accomplished and respected general manager who, by and large, does an excellent job for his company. Like many, Mark also spends too much time on tasks that should be handled by assistant managers. Mark's claims that he is "just too busy to hire and train an assistant" and "he's better off doing it himself" are typical of those in his position. Yet by securing and mentoring the right assistant managers Mark will have significantly more time to do what someone in his position should be doing (e.g., strategic thinking, developing multi-year business plans, etc.). His business, in turn, will run more efficiently and profitably-and, equally as important, the next generation of senior leadership will be firmly in place.
What are the attributes that savvy general managers look for when they hire their key assistants?
· Complementary skills—Good assistants are typically not clones of their general manager, but rather bring new and different talents to the senior managerial mix. As but one example, a "low tech" general manager would be particularly well-served to hire someone who really understands, and know when and how to use, the many "high tech" tools that are available and applicable to the specific business needs of the company.
· Practical experience—While in no way diminishing the fundamental importance of a formal, industry-specific education, good assistants also need relevant hands-on experience before they are truly ready to function effectively. Ideally, this practical experience can and should be garnered in a variety of positions within the company or another company in the same industry. The proverbial mail room and assisting accounts payable are always two good places in which to begin.
· Loyalty—Good assistants in any profession must be totally loyal to their boss, the general manager. Anything less is simply unacceptable. Office politics might make for a good television sit-com, but they make for a bad assistant manager. There is more than a modicum of truth in the old saw "When the boss looks good, everyone looks good." Effective assistant managers fully trust in the experience and knowledge of their bosses and, in so doing, earn over time the complementary respect and admiration of their bosses.
· Good work ethic—The successful assistant manager is someone who is willing and able to put in the necessary time it takes to help make the business a success. Nine-to-fivers need not apply. Acclaimed filmmaker John Frankenheimer of The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman of Alcatraz fame once said that "the importance of hard-working assistants cannot be overemphasized."
· Desire to be a general manager someday—Today's assistant manager is potentially tomorrow's general manager. Someone who is content "just to be an assistant manager" without fervently aspiring to become a general manager someday is, generally speaking, not someone who most general managers would want on their senior management team. (Yes, there are always exceptions.)
· Passion and enthusiasm for the industry—Successful assistant managers are those people who genuinely love their work and the particular industry they are in. It is, simply put, "in their blood." Hall of Famer Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs reiterated throughout his illustrious major league career that he would have gladly played baseball even if they never paid him a cent.
· A willingness to be creative—The truly successful assistant manager is someone who is willing to think outside the proverbial box. Better yet, he or she doesn't think about boxes at all. A common shortcoming of newer assistant managers is that they are, on occasion, too rules-oriented and/or too rigid. "Industry-specific sense" (i.e., common sense applied to one's particular industry) comes to most assistant managers over time, especially when they are working for a mature, supportive, and nurturing general manager.
· An interesting person—Finally, truly successful assistant managers are not one-dimensional. They have creative, fulfilling personal lives, and myriad interests and activities independent of their work. Nerds may be particularly good at the specific tasks they perform, but seldom do they rise to positions of real leadership within a company, particularly that of assistant manager and/or general manager.
Whatever one's business, hiring the right assistant managers can only increase the likelihood of long-term success for all concerned. Better yet, top assistant managers make the workplace more enjoyable-and when people truly love their work, productivity, customer satisfaction, and profits all naturally increase. Locating, attracting, hiring, and mentoring the right assistant manager is well worth the effort.