It happens every day. A stellar performer is promoted from team member or individual contributor to manager of a team. And nearly every day, that new manager struggles. They struggle because the job they are now doing is vastly different from the job they were doing, even though they stayed on the same team.
I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about Michael Jordan, arguably the best player in the history of basketball, and his absolutely abysmal performance as a General Manager in the NBA. Stunning isn’t it? How could someone so gifted and expert in the game be so poor at leading and managing a team playing the same game?
From finance, to IT, to sales and marketing, it is a phenomenon that repeats itself over and over again. The reason for this is simple in theory and hard in practice. That is, the job is different. There, simple in theory. But who else in an organization would be appropriate to step up and lead a team in a function? Certainly, people who are top performers in that function make ideal candidates. Right, hard in practice.
So to make that practice easier to implement, follow these five keys to ensuring that your top individual contributors develop into great leaders.
1. Recognize that leadership and individual contributor expertise require different and often mutually exclusive skills. While success in the “player” role comes from deep expertise in a specific area and from independent performance, the “coach” or leader role is quite different. Success in this role involves a great deal of interdependence. It is predicated on making sure that members of a team work well together and that all members of a team perform to their greatest potential. It is the job of the leader to bring out optimal performance of each individual, and leverage the talents of the group to achieve results greater than each could on their own. That is quite different than one person doing an incredible job on the assignments they are solely responsible for.
2. Get them ready for leadership before they are leading. All of us at one time or another have looked at the boss’s job and said, “I can do that.” Of course, we may not have known all that “that” entailed. Give people the chance to take on leadership roles and temporary supervisory opportunities to see how they react. Observe where they do well and where they struggle. When I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, it was common to take on the position of acting manager of a single engagement while serving as an associate on all of your other engagements. This practice provided the chance to receive mentoring and guidance as well as to understand the challenges from the inside out, before ever stepping up to the promotion.
3. Provide proper development and coaching. “Congratulations on your promotion, now get to work.” Many leaders I have had the chance to work with received an introduction to their new management job that sounded much like that. Even with a lot of familiarity with job content, leadership and management skills need to be honed. That takes developmental experiences, coaching, and time. I have always believed that if you want to know how to lead, ask those who are led. Either through a formal 360 degree instrument or informal conversations, it is important to get feedback on areas of strength and developmental opportunities for a new leader, and provide the training needed to enhance their performance. Any new manager needs some level of coaching support to sustain new skills, and reinforce new behaviors.
4. Incentivize leadership behavior, not just team success. Plenty of research has been done to indicate that rewards and recognition, both monetary and non-monetary, play a significant role in getting the behaviors you want out of people. That being the case, be sure you have effective incentives in place to motivate and drive the kind of behavior you need from leaders. Don’t make the mistake of incentivizing only cumulative results of a team—too frequently that will just drive a leader to behave as another team member. Think of the sales manager who steps in and just sells as an individual, or the software team leader who simply steps in and does the programming for a project. Incentivize and recognize the leadership behaviors that make a qualitative difference in performance, as well as quantitative results achieved. Leaders will take notice of what is valued and rewarded.
5. Give the space to grow in to the role. I’ve commented before that there is no easy leadership job, and one of the most trying periods for any leader is just after they have been promoted. In addition to the tools and resources that you provide for them, they need, above all, space. Few leaders can be truly excellent right out of the gate, so giving a leader some time to grow into their role is critical. That is not to say that they don’t need to perform effectively from the start, or that you should give someone who is well below standards more chances than necessary. But giving leaders cycles of learning and the chance to continuously improve their abilities is probably the most predictable success factor of all.
What else have you seen work when a star individual contributor is promoted to a leadership position?
Reprinted from Forbes (July 16, 2012)