The best candidates don't want a boss or a manager. They want a Career Agent.
A boss/manager of people who is a Career Agent is there to get the job done and get business results, but they'll accomplish something very important along the way. A career agent, as a manager of people, approaches every assignment to the team, every task, and all feedback through a simple lens related to the team member/employee in question.
Think about that for a second. Whether you're assigning work, talking about a project, or giving hard feedback for improvement, a boss who is also a career agent isn't simply telling you what to do. They're telling you WHY doing what they are encouraging you to do is good for you.
There's a big difference between normal bosses/managers of people and ones who are actively career agents.
That difference? The direct reports of Career Agents think their bosses actually give a shit about them. I'm not talking about empathy, which is a cheap word these days. I'm talking about advocacy.
Advocacy over empathy in a manager means this - "I care about how you feel, but I'm more interested in pushing you to see the game and absolutely crush it in your career, so you can thrive workwise, take care of your family, and feel great about who you are professionally."
Of course, not everyone is ready for Career Agent-type advocacy. Some just want their manager to leave them alone, to let them do the basics and not think about what's next, where they want to go, etc.
To the average employee, that sounds exhausting.
To the high performer with ambition, that sounds like the boss they want and need.
A funny thing happens with managers who are Career Agents for those who work for them. Word gets around, and they end up with stronger teams.
But if you're out there as a candidate, you have imperfect information on the potential future boss in front of you. If you have ambition, start with some or all of these 5 questions to figure out if your interviewer is going to be a true advocate for your career:
1--Are you considered one of the best in your company/location/business unit for developing people and seeing them promoted multiple times? (Spoiler alert: avoidance of the question isn't great. Neither is overconfidence, because the true manager as career agent knows how hard this status is to achieve. Following up with examples is fair to the interviewer with great confidence.)
2--How do you approach a direct report you feel has more to give, but you haven't seen the results yet? (Listen closely for the difference between getting the minimum out of non-performers versus developing performers.)
3--What's your approach to the grunt work that has to be done in any job vs. the activities that grow someone and prepare them for the next step in their career? (You want to hear that the manager always has their eye on getting you out of the weeds and helping you grow.)
4--Have you ever made a referral hire from a former direct report who now works at another company? Tell me more! (Testing the fact that they keep relationships warm when someone has the audacity to leave the company nest—average managers hate that.)
5--Who have you managed in your career that you now consider your peer? (Testing for a complete devotion to development and low ego related to hiring people who have the potential to be as good as or better than they are.)
If these questions sound like a lot to spring on someone who is interviewing you, you're 100% right. You'll hear things earlier in the interview process that tells you the manager in front of you is average, and they won't respond well to this line of questioning. It's up to you whether you want that job or not. Sometimes you have to feed the family and just get paid. I get it.
But if you're lucky enough to have options, and you want to be developed (regardless of career level), these questions are fair game. If you ask them and you get average or even slightly irritated answers, you know the deal. Stay where you are.
But if the potential manager in front of you perks up to the questions, is humble about what they are capable of, and engages, proceed and get as much as you can from the conversation. End the session with a request for referrals (current or otherwise) where people will talk about what it is like to work for them.
Find this person, and you've found your home related to who you want to work for.