What do famous managers like about self-starters?

Here are 5 quotes from famous (at least in their industry) managers.

They share their thoughts on hiring people with self-starter qualities…

The founders of Basecamp, a popular software company Jeff Bezos invested in, wrote about about self-starters with a twist. According to them, self-starters are like “managers of one”:

When you’re hiring, seek out people who are managers of one… These people free you from oversight. They set their own direction. When you leave them alone, they surprise you with how much they’ve gotten done.

Basecamp,Hire managers of one

This next manager needs no introduction. Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of self-starters in Apple’s early days:

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. 

Steve Jobs

At some point in your life, you may have been told to read the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. He said that people who feel they fit in their role will often act like self-starters:

If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. 

Stephen Covey

David Ogilvy’s name is renowned in the advertising world. In fact, some would consider him to be the grandfather of modern marketing. He was founder of one of the biggest ad firms ever. His take on self-starters:

Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

David Ogilvy

Our last quote comes from someone who wasn’t a manager himself. But Jim Collins had to get in the mind of famous managers to write the best-selling books, Good to Great and Built to Last.

This is what his encounters with high performing managers taught him:

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led–yes. But not tightly managed.”

Jim Collins


5+ reasons you need to hire a self-starter

At some point in your career, you might have read or heard someone calling themselves a self-starter.

Maybe you’ve been told you should hire such people onto your team.

But what’s so good about self-starter employees? And how can they contribute to your team achieving a huge alpha?

Here’s how hiring self-starters can benefit you


Self-starters start work without a nudge

They don’t need you to tell them to start working on a task – they’re on it! The opposite of employees who do bare minimum.


Self-starters don’t need to be spoon fed

You don’t need to give painstakingly detailed step-by-step instructions before they feel confident with the task.
They’ll dive in and ask for guidance if they get stuck.


Self-starters might cause healthy competition

Their just-go-and-do-it attitude might rub off on others in the team. You can expect to see others imitating their burning desire to “get on with it” and maybe even a little healthy competition.


Self-starters take up less of your time

They often know what to do next or at least find out on their own. You’re less likely to end up in “do this… now do this” back-and-forth. More time for strategic work… like your golf swing 😉


Self-starters do their homework

They are less likely to make you say, “Bring me solutions, not just the problems!”. That’s because self-starters will often work out potential solutions before presenting a problem to you.


Self-starters will take calculated risks

They’re confident enough in their abilities to act on the best information available at the time. They refuse to sit and wait for more data because that can make the work fall behind.


Self-starters are less resistant to change

They have a curious mindset is the spark for their action. They see change through this lens of curiosity. This makes self-starters more likely to be open to innovations in their role and workplace.

Self-starters sound like certain movie characters, don’t they?

Self-starters are like every strong protagonist who manages to come out on top at the end of movies.

They investigate out of curiosity – without waiting for anybody’s say so. They devise solutions on their own. They take calculated risks.

Such movie characters don’t wait for divine intervention or bide their time like supporting characters do.

The end result of their actions: beyond satisfactory performance.

What this means for you: productivity beyond a simple “satisfactory” grade.

This scenario shows how self-starters stand out from others

Setting up the scene

You manage a large team, which you’ve split into two sub-teams. Each is run by a supervisor who reports to you.

One of these supervisors is a typical self-starter. Let’s call him Don. The other, not so much. Let’s call him Ted.

You’ve been given a critical project by the CEO herself. She wants you to run a bake-off between your 2 sub-teams.

Ted is waiting for your word to get the team rounded up. Don’s already found out the project’s specifics and briefed his team. 

Let’s see how they both act when the project kicks off…

Ted waits for you to advise him about assigning tasks. Meanwhile, Don has started assigning tasks and runs it by you in the next meeting.

Don gets advice from specialists on his team on pressing problems then asks for your take. Ted brings you the problem to solve. 

Ted’s people sit on their work until told to continue – just like Ted. Don’s people start the next task while they wait for feedback.

Ted keeps going around in circles based on what people are telling him. Don looks at the ongoing situation and makes calculated decisions.

Now, Ted’s no villain. But can you see that Don’s methods would increase work quality with less of your involvement?


Is your company’s manager training a bumbling mess?

If your company is big enough to have an HR department, chances are you have access to some kind of manager training.

Whether it’s worth your while to take it up is another story.

From my own experience, I’ve found corporate manager training a little off the mark for my needs.

Corporate manager training comes in 3 flavors:

Flavor 1: Overly Spirited Leadership Training

Examples of concepts: Lead by vision, be a servant leader, change agent, team building exercises, driving engagement

Delivered by: Keynote speakers and consultants like ex-CEOs

Why it falls short: Not concrete enough for managers operating in the front-lines. You’ll get fired up by it at conferences, but that energy wears off fast once you’re back in the day-to-day. More useful for C-Level execs.

Flavor 2: Theory of Management Constructs

Examples of concepts: Theory of X&Y, Kepner-Tredoe Matrix, Fiedler’s Contingency model, Benne and Sheats’ Group Roles

Delivered by: University professors, management consultants and corporate learning & development courses

Why it falls short: Often so abstract, they can bog simple problems down into semantics. Some theories are heavy on psychology. You risk turning into an amateur psychologist, seeing things for more than they are.

Flavor 3: Industrial Relations Compliance

Examples of concepts: OSHA compliance, conflict management, workers compensation, dealing with unions

Delivered by: Industrial Relations experts, HR bulletins, corporate learning & development courses

Why it falls short: More focused on legal compliance than helping you building and manage a team that can crush goals. Still, it’s good to get an overview of industrial relations issues.

Bringing it together

Chances are you care more about crushing goals than being seen as a visionary leader who can interpret people’s inner thoughts.

Sure, you need to know workplace laws, but your job doesn’t end at covering your (and your boss’s) behind.

What you need (and want) are actionable tools and thinking for building and coaching a team that will get results. 


Who will benefit most from being an αlpha manager?

You’ll love alpha manager if you hit this trifecta:

You directly manage (or not far beyond) people who create products, generate revenue or deliver services 

Most of your team has a high level of ability in technical or professional realms

Your company or industry has a competitive or high stakes culture where you must fight for budget, advancement etc.

In my mind, you’re a manager like these folks:

  • Product “owner” / manager at a pharmaceutical company
  • Sales manager at a B2B software company 
  • General manager at a corporate owned health clinic

Obviously there are more situations where the trifecta applies. These examples merely stem from my own work experience.

It’s tempting for me to say, “Every kind of manager will benefit”. But that’s not true because…

Some managers won’t benefit from being an alpha manager

alpha manager explores key performance boosters. For example, how you can identify traits of high performers when hiring.

This would be overkill if you run a local restaurant or small gift shop. You will want to hire someone who’s reliable, friendly and isn’t clumsy. Not much else.

Another example where alpha manager is too much

Let’s assume you run a call center Who can you employ?

Almost anybody willing to take up basic training and work strange hours. If they go, you can hire a replacement relatively fast.

Bringing it all together

Thinking and acting like an alpha manager will benefit you if you work in a technical, corporate or professional space.

For every other kind of manager, common sense must prevail.


What does the “alpha” in αlpha manager mean?

This very much describes a recent conversation I had with a friend about starting this site.

This was his first thought when I probed his jerk reaction: “Like alpha males?”. OK, we need to set the record straight about…

My meaning of alpha

Like an alpha male, alpha managers lead the pack. But that’s where the similarities end. 

The key to explaining my version of alpha lies in the high finance. In that world, fund managers say they like to seek alpha.

alpha measures the margin between your results and the benchmark.

The aim of the game is to do much better than benchmark results. In other words, achieve a huge alpha.

Managers in other industries need to pay attention. Because in reality, this is how all managers get compared:

You must do better than average

Most managers are happy to hit benchmark. But only hitting benchmark puts you at risk of getting surpassed by other managers.

There’s a solid case for being more ambitious as a manager.

The reality of life as a manager is this: you are judged for the results you create. 

It won’t be an easy ride

The tough part is your results depend on the work of others. It’s not just that. Your alpha is hostage to a whole host of factors:

  • Key performers leave at a crucial point
  • Low performers drag top performers down
  • Technology clogs and changes your processes
  • New regulations affect how the work gets done
  • Corporate goals set a new level of pressure on everyone

The list could go on and on.

That’s why alpha manager exists

Despite all this, you need to keep your sights on hitting that big alpha. The goal of this website is to help you hit it.

How? By sharing performance boosting ideas and tools with you.

Here’s the framework to make it happen

In order of alpha manager priority:

  1. Hire people with high-performers traits
  2. Keep A-players performing at peak condition
  3. Plan and coordinate work at individual and team level
  4. Help B-players strive for A-player traits – going beyond job description
  5. Make C-players more competent (not just compliant) with duties 

End result: crushed goals, uncrushed team spirit.

It’s time to stand out from other managers at work. It’s alpha manager time. 


How ambitious a manager are you?

People become managers for their own reasons.

It could be your first major climb up the career ladder.

The results your team achieve – at least until you reach middle management* – will directly affect how quickly you climb.

Depending on how well you pull this off, you’ll climb the ladder fast or get stuck on the lower rungs your entire career.

That’s why it’s critical you act smart and act now like an αlpha manager.

But then again you might not care to climb this ladder at all.

You might not have wanted to be a manager, but ended up as one. How?

You were positively visible – by choice or by accident – to higher ups and this is their way of rewarding you.

Very rarely will you get the chance to go back to being an individual contributor in the same company.

So here you are – Mister or Miss Manager. What now?

Regardless of how motivated you are to be a manager, know one thing. You must crush the goals set out for you. You must show solid results.

Results are a form of social currency in your organization. Do well, you earn more social currency. Don’t do so well, get less of it.

More social dollars means better options for your team – plum projects, promotions and even protection during layoffs.

One day, you want to see yourself sitting in the CEO’s chair one day. Or you want to do great work and nothing more. Either way, you’ll benefit from learning to be like an αlpha manager.

* Once you reach middle management – at least 1 level above and below you – the game gets more complicated. You have to please more demanding bosses, bat for the managers who report to you and negotiate/co-operate with other middle managers. Being socially visible in your company made you visible and turned you into a manager. But for middle managers, that social game morphs into a form of politics. Not something you need to concentrate on at this point in your career.


So how did you end up becoming a manager?

The question sounds like small-talk you’d hear at a conference mixer.

But you should know the answer. In case your boss sends you to that convention and you end up in that conversation!

In my mind, these are the 2 most common answers:

You might have fallen into the role.

You’ve been a solid individual contributor – good at technical work, maybe even a little likeable. This has given you a solid result streak.

Someone higher up noticed. They have a feeling that promoting you to manager could help rub some of your results onto others.

You still have an urge to want to do the work yourself, not tell others to do it. Thing is, that old dynamic is no longer an option for you.

You are judged by the work others do, so you better make sure they do it well. The hard part: not falling on the passive-aggressive manager spectrum in the process.

Regardless of whether you want to be manager or not, your current job depends on you doing it right.

That means hiring the right people for your team’s roles, coaching them effectively and having a system in place to make sure work gets done to standard. Not easy, but αlpha manager will help.

You’ve always wanted to be a manager.

After years of pushing for it with people up the food chain, you’ve landed your dream job. Congratulations. Now, it’s time for the hard work.

If you do the manager gig long enough, you’ll learn one truth.

It’s never as simple as having a crack team on the ready then telling them to do the work and getting the desired outcome. Save that for Hollywood action movies.

You’ve learned to be more realistic and so you’re on a reading mission. You want to know everything about your new job as manager.

Early on, it’s tempting to follow advice from successful CEOs and entrepreneurs – even sports stars. They’ll say it’s about “having a vision” or “being a charismatic leader”.

Save all that for when you’re CEO. Getting bogged down in such semantics won’t solve the immediate problems you’ll face as a line manager.

Issues like how to not hire a false-positive and providing feedback without offending an A-player. With αlpha manager by your side, you’ll get there.