One Question To Ask When Identifying Potential Managers

How do you distinguish between brewery employees who could be potential leaders and those who are simply doing good work in the positions they were hired for?

That was a question asked of SanTan Brewing Company Operations Manager Gary Nicholas during a seminar at the 2023 Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville. After reading the question aloud, Nicholas said he’d answer it, but wanted to make one thing clear — what you’re trying to identify are potential managers, not just leaders. 

There’s a big difference between those two things, he explained. Namely, an employee being a leader isn’t always a good thing.

“Leaders are informal — they identify themselves and they’re the people that other people look to for an example,” Nicholas said. “You can have positive leaders that raise your team up, and you can have negative leaders who complain a lot and poison the water. We don’t tend to think of those people as leaders, but they are.”

A manager is something that can be defined clearly and succinctly, he said.

“Managers are those who manage people,” he said. “They’re not managing the process, they’re managing people.”

If you want to identify potential managers at your company, you can ask yourself a simple question.

“The fastest way to answer that question is think ‘OK, so I have a new employee, and who do I want teaching that person?’” Nicholas explained. “If you can answer that, you’ve just found one of your potential managers. Because they’re good with people and teaching them skills, they’re going to be good at managing other people.”

This is a better litmus test than simply judging based on skills and career experience, he noted.

“If they’re good [coming in] off the streets that’s an incredibly valuable skill, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be good at managing a team,” he said.

Growing a team (not just managerial candidates), training them properly and retaining them (to avoid the expense of retraining new workers) are important parts of assembling a staff.

Nicholas said staff is the most valuable resource a brewery has, so devoting resources to supporting them makes a world of difference. This starts with respect, which has to be more than a slogan. 

“There are beers that will win gold medals on Wednesday that would not if there were a gross bathroom,” Nicholas said. “Everyone’s work matters. You don’t get there without putting work in.”

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