Let me outline the negative aspects of managers that in my experience has 99.99% of the time led to them leaving / quitting / washing out in 3–9 months:
- Can’t meet deadlines. This may be OK in junior employees I guess. But never in a manager.
- Doesn’t understand mission. This may be your fault as CEO, but if any leaders don’t get the mission you are on (or really anyone), it won’t work out.
- Doesn’t want to grow. Anyone that doesn’t want to add new skills won’t work out in a startup < 200 employees or so.
- Too threatened by new VPs and leaders. This makes perfect sense in BigCos, but in start-ups, if a VP/Director/Manager is too threatened by a new hire / new role, something isn’t going to work out here.
- A “player”. If they talk too much about how amazing it was to work at DropBox, how terrific Stewart Butterfield was to work for … well that’s great. But that’s a derivative effect. Not the game itself.
- Can’t hire anyone great in first 30–60 days. All great managers can.
- Too defensive re: their poor performers. A great manager is highly aware and transparent re: who on their team is the best, mid-pack, and not performing. If they are too defensive about their non-performers, that’s a sign of a manager that can neither deliver nor scale.
- Lack of 100% ownership and too many excuses. You already know this. If they don’t own something in their area, really, they own nothing.
When you see this behavior in your managers/directors/VPs, at least plan on the fact you’ll need to hire a replacement in a single digit number of months.
Now the flip side is, some “negative” characteristics actually can be an asset in a start-up. Here’s my list of things not to see as flags, more as areas you can help and backfill on as they grow:
- Frustrated with other leaders not delivering. This just comes with ownership. It’s your job as CEO to fix this, somehow. As you upgrade the team, this should fade a bit.
- Can only hire folks that are a junior version of themselves. Yes, this is a sign of a new / green manager. But you can help them open their eyes to a more diverse set of backgrounds, experiences and hires. You need to start ASAP and early, though. By hire #3.
- Mainly doing / focused on what they are good at. If you are a first-time VP of something, you won’t be great at everything. No one is. It’s OK if your stretch VP mainly focuses on the areas she’s great at … as long as she also takes accountability of the areas she is weak at. They will grow, and you are getting leverage here. Find a way to help backfill their weaknesses.