Management and leadership positions are distinct from other types of jobs you might have held. They differ not only in detail (such as dress code or job title) but in the very nature of the daily job description. Simply put, more is expected of a manager than a rank and file employee. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in a management or leadership role, a fact of which companies are fully aware. Consequently, most companies restrict their searches for these positions to those with the requisite traits or background.
Think back to the earliest jobs you worked as a teenager. While they might have initially seemed demanding, you most likely remember them as being rather easy. Relatively little is expected, for instance, of a deli clerk at the local grocery store. An individual in this position is considered exemplary if he shows up on time, follows simple instructions, respects the customers and puts in an honest effort. He need concern himself only with performing adequately in these areas. Think a step higher, however, to the job description of the deli manager. Unlike the clerk, it is not sufficient for the manager to merely put in a day’s work and go home. The manager is actually responsible for the performance of the entire department – weekly and monthly sales targets, the results of customer satisfaction surveys, minimal safety issues, etc. Their job description is anything and everything that accomplishes these goals.
If ever the department falls short in these areas, the manager is held responsible. It matters not what brilliant excuses, circumstances or rationalizations the manager trots out in defense of their shortcomings. For this reason, companies are looking for a results-oriented attitude in their prospective leaders. John T. Reed, a Harvard MBA, wrote an article on the differences between results-oriented and process-oriented people. While a process-oriented person “focuses on the literal instructions they have been given”, a results-oriented leader goes above and beyond, doing whatever is needed to accomplish the goal in timely fashion. If you are applying for a management or leadership position, you must demonstrate that you are such a person.
That being said, it’s not enough to simply be a stern taskmaster. A manager or leader, by definition, manages or leads others. Nor do most effective managers succeed by coldly issuing orders from behind a desk. Instead, effective leaders are tend to possess interpersonal skills and a true human touch. The reason is that merely knowing what to do (having the right strategy, plan, etc.) is worthless if you cannot persuade others to participate. Plenty of managers possess unquestioned intelligence, drive and industry-specific knowledge, but are utterly lacking in people skills. Such people tend to have great ideas, but fail at securing the “buy-in” that creates real, company-wide support.
As a result of hard-fought experience with this problem, companies have learned to prioritize people skills in their management interviews. Coming across as someone who is impatient, easily angered or annoyed, and quick to argue, therefore, are not interpreted as evidence of passion or conviction. Instead, the person interviewing you is likely imagining what kind of arguments or conflicts you might cause with subordinates. So while it’s great to stand your ground, you also need to display a genuine ability to work with and respect others.