The Passive Manager Is Dead: How To Spot a Proactive Leader

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The passive manager is dead, buried, and six feet under. To survive record levels of burnout, managers today must be more proactive, data-driven, and intentional with communication than ever before.

In this article, I’m going to break down what behaviors a successful leader must exhibit and how recruiters can spot the potential of a great manager from a mile away.

The Same, but Different

The makings of a strong leader are no different now than they ever were, but the criteria have evolved — what managers do is the same; how they do it has changed. And while the high-touch, fast-paced, data-heavy nature of the modern hybrid work environment makes it much harder for weak leaders to stay under the radar for long, it’s best if they never squeak by in the hiring process all.

In short, because the rules for supporting and driving teams to succeed have dramatically changed, how leaders are qualified in the hiring process must change, too.

When hiring for leadership roles, organizations now need to suss out: Can this person build trust without ever meeting an employee face to face? How will this person ensure critical information is shared and consistent across multiple channels? How will this person use data to understand and prepare for future challenges?

Because work now moves in every direction, from everywhere, all at once, a manager’s MO must be proactivity (supported by extreme flexibility).

Why Proactivity Matters

A Harvard Business Review study found that proactive managers excelled by setting clear goals, providing regular feedback, monitoring productivity, and anticipating challenges.

Managers who shifted away from managing time and activity (reactive), and toward managing results and outcomes (proactive), were reported as most appreciated by employees.

That’s because employees expect their managers to devote more time and effort to removing interpersonal and work barriers, coordinating among many stakeholders, and coaching their performance.

How do you spot a proactive leader in an interview? Look for evidence of these three skills:

Skill #1: Building Trust From Afar

Leaders must build strong, trusting relationships with their team members, even if they never meet them face-to-face. In a hybrid work environment, this starts with being intentional about delivering expectations and feedback.

In an interview, ask how a leadership candidate approaches employee check-ins. An ideal candidate will have experience holding frequent, regularly scheduled times to proactively support upcoming employee needs and prioritize making themselves available for one-on-ones as a resource for employees in the flow of work.

In addition, they should have examples of how they set clear expectations and deadlines for projects and give employees the autonomy to manage their schedules and workloads.

These actions build trust by making employees feel valued and giving them the confidence to count on their manager for help.

When done properly, the manager can focus less on managing productivity and more on recognizing hard work and celebrating wins, further reinforcing a sense of trust.

Skill #2: Flexible, Active Communication

Communication is more complex than ever. Leadership candidates must be skilled at sharing critical information across multiple channels, including email, instant messaging, video conferencing, in the office, in group meetings, in private meetings — the list goes on.

Additionally, they must be able to tailor their communication style to each team member’s needs and convey information clearly and succinctly.

When interviewing candidates, ask how they might adapt their communication style to different team members. Do they use different channels depending on the individual’s preferences and work styles? Some employees prefer instant messaging for quick questions or updates, while others prefer email or video conferencing for more detailed conversations.

Find out how proactive they are when it comes to listening. For example, using anonymous feedback surveys to gather input on team dynamics and areas for improvement can help resolve issues before they become unmanageable and provide coaching opportunities for an entire team.

Skill #3: Using Data to Prepare

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, leaders must be able to use data to make informed decisions and prepare for future challenges. An ideal candidate must be comfortable analyzing data, identifying trends, and using insights to drive strategy and decision-making.

Recruiters can grasp a candidate’s ability to use data proactively by inquiring about how they use the information to prepare for future challenges.

A strong leader may leverage trends in customer behavior to optimize sales or marketing strategies. For example, a candidate could reference how they received data that suggested certain customer segments responded better to shorter marketing messages. Perhaps they used this insight to have their team tailor messaging to be shorter, thus increasing conversions.

Additionally, an ideal candidate might monitor industry trends and competitor activity, and use that information to plan for potential disruptions or changes to the market proactively.

They should also be able to speak to how they use employee data to inform conversations around goal setting, PTO planning, skill development, career advancement, and more.

No Room for Reactivity

Bad managers today have less opportunity to hide under the radar. In comparison, good leaders have more opportunities than ever — through the number of communication channels, work environments, and data available — to manage teams proactively.

Only manager candidates who show signs of flexibility, and can demonstrate how they use technology meaningfully, should be on your shortlist.

Author Bio

Steven Jiang
Steven Jiang is CEO and co-founder at hireEZ