How many superstar athletes do you know of that went on to become great coaches? Not many, I bet. It rarely happens, because the skill set that makes the best athletes has very little overlap with the skill set that makes great coaches. In fact, some of the things you need to be great as an athlete (i.e. a burning desire to be the best) work at cross purposes to what you need to be a great coach (i.e. a burning desire to help others to be the best they can be).
This principle is true on our teams, as well. The best individual producers are not necessarily the best qualified for leadership. Yet, because we don’t know how to identify leadership potential, we promote on what we can measure: aptitude in their current role. This is a simple approach, but it’s often ineffective. Promoting your top producer to manager may create more problems than it solves. Achievement-minded people often struggle with leadership, because it requires that they switch their focus from their personal goals to the goals of the team. The drive that was so necessary in their previous role often causes interpersonal problems with their team members. Their strength then becomes a weakness.
Achievement-minded people also find it difficult to delegate. From their viewpoint, no one can do it as well as they can (and they are probably right – they are the superstars, remember). Besides, much of what they do so well is rooted in talent. While skills can be taught, talent is part of our genetic code. Michael Jordan can teach you some of the fundamentals and advanced skills of basketball, but he can’t teach you to be great unless you are already naturally gifted athletically.
Instead of promoting the same type of people over and over and expecting different results, why not try to identify an individual’s talent for leadership? While this can be challenging considering our team members’ job responsibilities, it isn’t impossible. As you talk to your team members, keep your antennae out for the following leadership competencies:
- Leadership in other environments (church, community, trade organizations, family…)
- Dissatisfaction with the status quo
- Willingness to take on more responsibility
- Ability to overcome obstacles to complete a task
- Respect of his/her peers (not to be read “Liked by his/her peers” – they are not the same thing)
- Willingness to give away credit
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Add competencies of your own to round it out. If you can’t glean enough information about your team members from observation and interaction, give them an opportunity to lead a project team or task force. Let them head the next meeting. Put them in charge of organizing the team off-site. If all else fails, ask them to give you examples of each competency from their personal experience. Starting with the right criteria makes all the difference.