bosses: what do your employees complain about behind your back?

When I’m interviewing candidates for management positions, I like to ask something like: “Even the best bosses’ employees will occasionally have complaints about them. What complaints do you think the people you’ve managed have had about you?”

The responses are revealing in a lot of ways. An astonishing number of people can’t answer it at all, or have to really think about it; they’ve clearly never bothered to think about it before. This is disturbing, as it indicates anything from lack of self-insight to insufficient engagement with employees to simply not caring what employees think. A handful of people will say what they think I want to hear, usually something along the lines of, “I work them too hard.” (Not what I actually want to hear, by the way.) Of the people who can answer it genuinely, I’ve heard responses ranging from “I can be too gruff” to “They want more direction.” It’s really a useful question for getting insight into someone’s management style — or, in the case of the non-answerers, their lack of insight into it.

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel*

    I’ve never heard that one. It’s interesting. But I’m wondering what the answer is that you’re really looking for besides a genuine response.

  2. Ask a Manager*

    Hi, Rachel! I’m genuinely looking for an honest response and a discussion of it. For instance, if someone says he’s too gruff at times, I want to hear what he thinks of that — what’s the impact, does he think it’s a problem, is he doing anything to alter it. No one is a perfect manager, so I’m trying to just get a better picture of the candidate’s management approach and how thoughtful he/she is about it. That said, some answers definitely would be big red flags — such as an inability to talk to employees about problems.

  3. Wally Bock*

    An interesting follow-up question to the folks who have an answer might be: “Why do you think that?”

  4. Productivity Guy*

    Interesting. I’m definitely using that question at some point. I guess if I were asked that, I would probably say I’m too hands off with certain employees, because I don’t like my manager being hands on and expect that I don’t have to deeply manage my employees – but as I’ve encountered many times in my relatively short career, most employees do want a bit more of a hands-on approach, and some need it.

    I would think you would like an honest answer and then a VERY quick explanation of what that person is doing to improve in that area, if at all.

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