Hiring Good Managers: How To Empower Your Staff and Learn To Step Away


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[L]et’s say you own a café. Your coffee game is on point, your shots are perfectly extracted, and your milk is as smooth as melted ice cream. However, you just can’t keep quality baristas or managers on your floor. 

Why are people leaving? 

One of the answers could be a lack of quality leadership. An article from professional networking site LinkedIn states that “75% of people quit their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

Why is it so hard to hire, train, or be a great leader? It shouldn’t be so tricky, but it is. Most managers learn to manage either by watching a great manager or, more often, a terrible one. 

I learned from the latter. I’ve had lots of bad managers and a few great ones. Now, twenty-one years after I began my management career, I have some advice on how we can choose, train, and empower those in our leadership roles and stop losing good people because of bad managers.

Plus, wouldn’t it be great if your manager and team were so strong that you could let your business run for a week while you go on vacation, let’s say, to the Bahamas? That can only happen if you take finding and developing a great manager seriously.

Identify Management Potential

In most retail settings—and business settings in general—we promote people for the wrong reason. We make an employee the manager because they are exceptional at their job. 

When I managed at a large retailer, I was guilty of that. I thought, “Hey, this person is a phenomenal salesperson. I’m sure they will be a great manager!” I could not have been more wrong.

So, what should we look for, if not just picking our best baristas to manage a café? I learned to ask employees if they were interested in managing, and I looked for someone excited about their current role and who repeatedly showed initiative. 

A forgotten—but obvious—resource is the candidates’ original job application and resume. Do they have any prior management experience that I overlooked or forgot about? Did they offer any insight into their future goals? 

Also, look at how they handle any customer complaints—this is a good window into how they will deal with conflict in a leadership role. Are they able to quickly diffuse the situation? Are they keenly capable of making an unhappy customer happy? These are good indicators of communication and relationship skills, both necessary to be a great manager.

Looking Inward

Another critical detail many café owners miss: is the person I want to promote kind? How many of you have had a jerk for a manager, that person who doesn’t care about their employees—just about the bottom line or their own authority? I know I have. 

Your manager needs to have emotional intelligence. Your managers need to work with other people and genuinely care about them, not just focus on the tasks that need to complete. Look for someone who the rest of your team wants to work with. That can be a smooth transition into someone they want to work for.

“Communication is key” is an old adage for a reason. Can your potential manager communicate? Everything about management requires clear and consistent communication. A potential manager has to convey the ‘why’ behind the ‘what,’ and they have to delegate. They have  to articulate your vision and expectations for the way your business is to operate. Without communication, the manager perishes. And then so does your team.

Let’s pause our search and take a moment to look inward at your management and communication. Are you a good communicator? You must be able to spell out the vision for your company and describe and demonstrate the core behaviors you expect from all your employees. Do you have a vision and core behaviors spelled out for your business? 

If you don’t, do that before you hire a manager. If you already have a management team, step back and create your vision and core behaviors. You cannot expect someone to effectively lead your company if you cannot convey to them the results you want to achieve. It is never too late to do this. These goals should govern every decision you make and every decision made by your team. It is the best and fastest way to course-correct and get your ship headed in the right direction.

You Promoted Them, Now What?

You’ve identified a motivated employee who wants to lead and has the emotional intelligence to do it well. Now you have to put in the effort to develop them into an excellent manager! You can’t just promote them, give them the keys to the shop, and go on your merry way.


This happened to me in my very first management role. I was nineteen, and I was a selling machine. I was a pretty good communicator, and I consistently demonstrated enthusiasm for my current role and craved more responsibility. I would like to think I was pretty nice and that my coworkers enjoyed working with me. 

But: I had no idea how to manage anyone! Yet, there I was, head of a staff of ten salespeople, holding the keys to the store. When I asked the owner to go over the duties and goals for my new position, I was told to write the schedule, make sure the team did their non-sales tasks, and make the sales goals. Oh, that’s it? How hard can that be? Apparently, a little more challenging than it looked.

I made a lot of mistakes. I tried to make everyone like me by doing their jobs for them, so no one took my requests seriously. I was over-reactionary, and I didn’t triage problems or get full info before jumping in, so I looked (and was) frantic. I was young, which wouldn’t have been a problem, except I let my insecurity and need to be liked rob me of the power of effective communication. I was burnt out and I resented my team. I wasn’t actually managing anyone. It was a recipe for disaster.

Seek Out Resources

Back in 1993, when I was thrown into management, there were no TED Talks, no podcasts, and nobody had introduced me to Tony Robbins or John Maxwell yet. So I had to go on my own. I had no mentor, no real example to follow, so I just made it up as I went along. 

Please, I beg you, do not do that to your people. If you do, you are putting your business at risk. There are so many great books, podcasts, and articles out there—you have no excuse not to develop your managers.

The most helpful tool for new managers is a manager training guide. Create one yourself or make it easy and steal one from the internet. A good training outline details the responsibilities of the manager role and a time frame to learn them. The time frame holds you and your new manager accountable for accomplishing the learning goals that you have outlined.

As you customize the outline, keep in mind that you have more than one option when promoting someone. You do not have to give away all of the responsibility right away. You could create a manager-in-training position, letting you give a new manager little chunks of responsibilities to master. 

However, in a busy café setting, we are usually in a hurry to replace someone who left, so we tend not to have the luxury of time. In that case, it is even more critical that you are very intentional about communicating and teaching the skills that will set your new manager up for success.

If you do not naturally possess these skills (some business owners don’t, and that’s OK), put someone else in charge of developing your new manager. Enroll them in a program; buy a management book, read through a chapter a week, and discuss together how they can apply the concepts. Spending the time—and yes, money—to grow your managers is one of the essential keys to the success of your coffee business.

It can be hard to step into a manager role if an employee was the coworker the day before. The rest of the team must see that you have confidence in the person you have promoted. Hold a company meeting to celebrate their promotion: this accomplishes multiple things. Most importantly, it establishes the employee in their new role and gives them the chance to address your team before they start delegating tasks and being the boss. 

Can I Go On Vacation Yet?

You’ve chosen your manager wisely. You’ve done the research and developed a capable, motivated, and skillful manager—or at least one who is getting there. But you still have a hard time letting go of the reins and stepping away from your business for any length of time. 

Some of that fear is just part of being a business owner. You have poured your money, sweat, and tears into getting this café up and running. You have spent countless hours behind the bar, and now you have to trust someone else to do it for you while you’re away. Scary, right?

It’s scary. But it’s necessary.

You have to trust that you have a manager who cares enough about your business and your people to make the right decisions for your business in your absence. And then you have to just do it. You have to leave. Will it be perfect while you are gone? No. Will they make mistakes? Yes. It’s what they and you do about those mistakes that matter in the long run.

It’s time to trust your manager, but it’s also time to trust yourself. Trusting and empowering your people is one of the biggest gifts you can give them. Empowering them and letting them make mistakes is even better. Empowering them, allowing them to make mistakes, and then using those mistakes as teachable moments is the best. 

You cannot be at your café twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. To be the visionary, the entrepreneur, and to continually grow your business, you have to step away from time to time. Otherwise, you will be a burned-out, ineffective leader yourself.

You have done everything necessary to choose, develop, and trust the person you’ve put in charge. Your manager has got this.

By all means, go to the Bahamas!

Kerry Miller is a business development representative for Dillanos Coffee Roasters.

This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine. It has been condensed for our digital platform and updated to reflect Fresh Cup’s current editorial standards.  

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