Several unique but linked situations lead a small business owner to the conclusion of hiring a General Manager. We discussed some of the most common ones in Part II of this series: the business may have outgrown the owner, there may be a significant need for change, there may be an exit strategy at play, or the business may have a rising star on staff worthy of a new challenge or opportunity. Regardless of the reasons, a monumental decision will be made by both the business owner and the future GM. In the conclusion of this three-part series, we will dive into what the necessary attributes of a successful GM are, where to find these right-hand executors, and how the owner’s support is necessary to make the relationship flourish in a way that will yield unprecedented levels of growth for the organization.
While working with clients in need of GMs, I am frequently asked, “How do I find an individual with the skills and abilities necessary to run my company?” The answer to this question starts with having a firm grasp of the traits needed for a candidate to be successful in the position while also understanding the real question being asked: “How do I find someone that I trust enough to run my company?”
In consideration of the performance competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities that it takes to run a business, we could fill an entire library profiling the ideal small business leader. Most of us can probably recite at least half of the ideal traits of a GM without getting out of our chairs. So what is the dilemma?
The answer: there isn’t just one set of traits that make up the ideal candidate! Understanding the priority of the qualifications is critical in our search. The best we can hope for is to find someone who has the mandatory requirements; anything more is a bonus. This brings us to the two lists: the qualifications and the must have attributes.
The qualifications are easy. This list includes things like education, experience, financial understanding, and communication skills. The ability to plan and organize as well as negotiate and resolve conflict also make a GM more effective. Most candidates who are even in the realm of consideration already possess a great deal of aptitude in many of these areas. The degree of aptitude is what will be used to ultimately choose a candidate if and only if they also possess the must have attributes. The tendency, of course, would be to simply choose a candidate who compliments the owner’s strengths and weaknesses. The flaw in this strategy would be overlooking what is most important.
The must have attributes are the most important. They are the actual criteria for the job. They are not to be compromised at any point during consideration of employment for a GM. When searching for or considering a candidate for this position, we must understand that beyond all the degrees, certifications, and years of experience exist four competencies that will be the determining factors critical to the success of this position.
First, the individual must have the ability to articulate and execute the owner’s vision. It is one thing to be able to understand and believe in the owner’s dream. Having the ability to communicate it to others in a way that brings unison to an organization is a whole other ball game. This involves a tremendous but not-so-rare talent for continually clarifying and reinforcing the vision with graceful simplicity. GMs lead their staffs in a manner that motivates and inspires, not with their words but with their actions.
Second, the individual must have iron clad integrity. GMs uncompromisingly put the interests of the business above themselves. They do not cut corners or play games. They earn trust and respect by being authentic and fair in every situation. They talk straight, which enables others to believe that their direction and leadership is true.
Third, the individual must have unyielding drive. Goal-oriented individuals are innately motivated to be successful. Like a head coach yearning for the next championship, GMs push relentlessly toward the next objective. They can taste success with every plan, every decision, and every action. This quality becomes magnetic throughout an organization. It attracts winners who thrive on the satisfaction that comes with hard work. More importantly, GMs achieve success with remarkable discipline and consistency in every stage of their personal and professional lives.
Fourth, the individual must have staunch loyalty: loyalty to the owner, loyalty to the customers, and loyalty to the employees. More than anything else, successful GMs understand and respect the burdens and responsibilities associated with running businesses that do not have their names on the charters. They pride themselves in being true to the very people who put them in their positions and hold the virtues of their organizations close to their hearts and minds.
Regardless of how improbable it might seem to find the right person to fill such an important role in a small business, the field of candidates is actually quite large. The problem, however, is that they are already employed either within your company or at another! Internal candidates are easily overlooked because they are often considered too valuable in their current roles to promote. The hesitancy to do so creates an artificially short ladder for these employees who eventually leave for greater opportunities because they are driven by the very characteristics that make them qualified for the GM position.
The interesting thing about this paradox is that external candidates are in similar situations in their respective roles with other employers. They are top performers who want to feel challenged and rewarded. They want to achieve greater success and to continue advancing their careers. The one thing that prevents us from finding candidates is their loyalty to their current employers.
The solution is the ultimate test of loyalty: owners must be loyal to the GM position. The complexity of this test could be overlooked by masking the owners’ fears with a bunch of psychological theories about an entrepreneur’s inability to commit, communicate, or take risks. However, it is really a lot simpler than that. Owners have to be able to let go and trust that someone else will treat their businesses better than they did. Then, and only then, will the GM position be possible.
The best General Managers are not recruited. They are the ones doing the recruiting. They are also administering their own tests, seeking the support of owners and showing their own loyalty, drive, integrity, and commitment to the current vision under which they are operating. Those business owners that pass the test become candidates for future employers, and, when the time is right, an opportunity is born both for the GM and the loyal owner.
The payoff for passing the ultimate test cannot be measured on income statements or balance sheets alone. It is greater than assets, equity, or financial rewards. The payoff is the realization of the entrepreneur’s vision, conceived in the mind of one but executed by many.