First Business

November 16, 2010

Pick me! Pick me!

The recent elections were at the forefront of our world — there was no escaping the news coverage or the incessant commercials! That got me thinking about leadership roles. In business, management fills a leadership role similar to government officials. One difference is supervisors and leaders in business are appointed and not elected. They are really more like the coaching staff of a baseball team.

Interestingly, great coaches and managers often weren’t the greatest players. They had to work extremely hard in their careers, and in so doing, they learned the details required for success. Maybe that’s why they’re able to help all of their players reach their full potential. The superstar, on the other hand, may have been able to just get by on raw talent and may not have learned these teachable nuances of success.

The same may hold true for a star performer in business. This is probably most commonly seen in sales. A common blunder for many businesses is to take their star sales person and promote them to the sales manager position. If they’re the best you have at sales, they should be the best at sales management — right? Not necessarily. Worse yet, if it doesn’t work, the functionality of the sales team deteriorates and the business also loses the production of their best sales person! This failed promotion is often referred to as the Peter Principle, and I’m sure many of you have seen something like this happen.

That’s because a great performer is not always a great teacher, just like the star ballplayer is not necessarily a good coach. It’s a different skill set. Leadership is about demonstrating, motivating and helping others.

The former star performer may not be conditioned to take on the role of "servant leader." (This leadership philosophy was developed by Robert Greenleaf who said, "Good leaders must first become good servants.") They may be great at doing individual work and focusing on what it takes for them to succeed, but I believe the opposite approach is required for supervision. Supervisors and managers need to focus on doing everything possible to help their reports succeed. It can be really hard for some to change their mindset.

In business, it has become clear to me that it is more important for a supervisor and leader to be respected than liked. This is a very difficult distinction for many supervisors to accept and live with. The respect comes from their demonstrated commitment, treating people with respect and dignity, and accepting responsibility for results. Could this be another reason the journeyman player is more often a successful coach than the superstar? The superstar performer (in sports or business) has always been loved, and has grown conditioned to that. That’s an emotionally tough thing to possibly lose while working for respect.

Next time you are evaluating someone for a promotion (or for a political office, or if they ask you for input about your favorite team’s next coach!) make sure you evaluate their skills and abilities relative to what’s required for the new position — especially if it’s a change from a production role into supervision.


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