One Secret Of Highly Effective Managers

by  Peter Friedes  |  Leadership Development
One Secret Of Highly Effective Managers

Think of a skill you highly value in others. Chances are it’s a skill where you personally excel. Salespeople notice strong presentation and relational skills. Accountants often prize attention to detail. It is common to appreciate in others (or over-appreciate) skills you are good at and to discount the value of skills you are less good at. This tendency is problematic if you are a manager.

When I was CEO of Hewitt Associates, an HR consulting firm (now Aon Hewitt), we were a partnership. Each year, we asked all the current partners to provide feedback regarding every partner candidate they had personally worked with. These appraisals told us as much about the evaluators as the people they were evaluating.

Our account managers liked candidates who were versatile and had broad knowledge. Our business developers endorsed highly personable candidates who were dynamic, persuasive presenters. Our actuaries noted accuracy, speed, and an unflinching willingness to tackle complex analysis and calculations. Our lawyers had a hard time appreciating what the head of recruiting did for the firm that might deserve partnership. Most of the partners evaluated candidates through the lens of their own best skills.

The Executive Committee and I took particular notice of partners who appreciated skills they themselves did not have. It was these partners we considered for broader management positions, because we had learned over time that the best managers:

  1. Ask themselves, “What am I weak at, and who among my employees can best cover for my weaknesses?”
  2. Make a list of each employee’s top skills and use this information when assigning work, so that most of the time, employees are operating from their strengths.
  3. Help employees feel appreciated for everything they are good at.

On occasion, you may want to ask employees to work outside their comfort zones to help them stretch, gain vital experience, or overcome weaknesses, as long as you can cover for those weaknesses before the work reaches the client. But the majority of the time, you want employees to utilize their best skills.

Being an effective manager requires fighting human nature—resisting the tendency for like-me hiring and promotion, and realizing that the best team performance comes from appreciating and embracing diverse skill sets and temperaments.

Are you ready to look at your skills and the skills of each of your employees in an objective way?

How have you overcome the tendency toward like-me hiring and promotion?

About The Author

Articles By pete-friedes
Peter Friedes, retired CEO of Hewitt Associates and co-founder of Managing People Better, LLC , writes about management best practices. Visit for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Paul LaRue  |  15 Sep 2015  |  Reply

A terrific post, Peter!

I’ve always been curious how many times people were passed over because they weren’t “cookie cutter” enough based on the criteria you mentioned. You are absolutely correct in your assessment that leaders need to overcome ourselves and our “like-me” tendencies. Breaking out of ourselves is the way to make that change.

Thank you for your wisdom today !


John E. Smith  |  15 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Peter – excellent observations about an important and somewhat less discussed aspect of effective leadership.

I admit freely to being guilty as charged as I review my own biases toward skills I believe I possess and am effective in, rather than considering those other skills (ones I do not possess at a competent level).

This is one of those human nature things, where we appreciate something which we amply possess, maybe because we understand the effort required to become proficient in a thing. Maybe we just resonate with those who are more like us, as you indicated. Whatever the reason, a bias can emerge, which lessens our effectiveness.

I am very impressed that your senior leadership team was able to recognize and overcome this by looking for the rising star who could resist this bias. My experience with management teams has been much different … too often, I have seen silos abound and be strongly defended, while attempts to bridge gaps die for lack of support. Not in all cases, but too often.

I honestly cannot point to a specific tool or strategy that has helped me understand all this and change my behavior. Upon reflection, it seems to have been a long process of experience, education, reflection, and motivation to work more effectively. I have seen the results of biased hiring and promotion, engaged in formal and informal learning about leadership and management, and thought deeply with trusted others (like here on Lead Change Group) about this and other issues.

Many in management and leadership positions do none of these things, but continue to manage and lead as they have learned from those who came before them, without questioning whether the way they do so is effective.

Thanks for keeping this particular discussion going:)


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