All Articles Leadership Management Are your employees people managers or subject-matter experts? How do you decide?

Are your employees people managers or subject-matter experts? How do you decide?

4 min read


The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

Q. As a young startup leader, how do you assess which of your early employees should move “up” to become people managers vs. subject-matter experts?

1. Do they research or rally?

Take any given challenge or opportunity. Employees who respond to that challenge or opportunity by rallying people are going to become your more natural managers, whereas people who respond by wanting to do more research are going to be your more natural subject matter experts. (This assumes you haven’t created incentives or disincentives for either response.) — Charlie Gilkey, Productive Flourishing

2. Do they want to lead?

It is usually readily apparent when someone has the required personal skills to manage effectively. However, you can quickly find out which path they’d like to follow by asking them. When asked directly which path they would prefer, people will usually choose that which is most inspiring to them. Since people are most effective when they believe in their work, let them tell you what role that is. — Brennan White, Watchtower

3. Do they aspire to lead or control?

Do they aspire to lead people, or do they desire to control people? I have never seen a good leader who didn’t first aspire to lead people with a love for taking them forward towards a goal. Don’t promote reluctant candidates who don’t have a passion for their team, or you will find yourself with a manager who doesn’t like people and doesn’t want to take the time to mentor, lead and inspire. — Seth Talbott, CEO and Startup Advisor 

4. Do they have managerial traits?

The leadership should conduct that assessment during the interview process. A candidate’s potential to be a great people manager is an inherent part of what we look for in a potential employee. — Katrina Lake, Stitch Fix

5. Are they trusted?

Do people on the team trust them and their decision-making? This quite often will determine if people they are managing will line up and follow them as a leader. Managing is managing, but leadership is what matters, and for that you need someone people will trust and walk through the fire with. — Tracey Wiedmeyer, InContext Solutions

6. Do you lnow where they fit on your team?

Mentally, you should have a career map for each individual on your team. If you see that they work well with people, consider moving them into people manager roles. But if they don’t do well managing people, then be certain you create a career path for them that doesn’t require they manage people to move up. The rest of your team will thank you — and that individual may as well. — Michael Seiman, CPXi

7. Are they passionate, performance-driven and competent?

Number one is that they’re passionate about the business and fully invested, because as a manager that needs to be conveyed so your team feels the same way. Number two, they need to perform in their current role. Last but not least, they need to display leadership qualities — e.g. teaching employees, generating ideas and doing what needs to be done. — Carlo Cisco, SELECT

8. Are they driven to make things better?

My favorite employees — and the ones I know have potential to grow into managerial roles — are the ones who are constantly asking, “How can we make this better?” Nothing is more frustrating as a leader than an employee telling you a project is “good enough” or “fine.” The ones with the insatiable drive to make things BETTER are the ones who will make inspiring, capable leaders. — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

9. Do their wants match your vision?

First, check in to see what the employee wants — to obtain mastery at a craft or pursue a leadership role? Some people get forced into management because they think that is the right career path, but they actually desire to become a great writer, engineer or designer. Then, know your own philosophy of what makes a great leader: confidence? Positive attitude? Observe and see if they are a match. — David Hassell, 15Five