Have you ever seen this scenario play out? You have an employee who is a strong individual contributor in their department. Consistent with the organization’s goals to develop employees and promote from within, you move your rock star to team lead, supervisor or some similar management role. But it doesn’t take long for problems to develop — the newly promoted employee struggles to deliver results and expresses frustration with their new position other employees complain that their new manager is overly critical, doesn’t communicate clearly and/or provides no direction, and the overall productivity of the department takes a turn for the worse. Maybe the new manager muddles along for a while or maybe things just keep getting worse until they quit or are fired or demoted. Either way, everyone is left wondering what happened to the rock star they promoted.
Obviously, there can be lots of reasons an employee fails once they are promoted but more often than not the problem is the organization did nothing to help prepare the employee for their new role. You simply assumed since the employee was good at creating spreadsheets, assembling widgets, analyzing data or whatever they did as an individual contributor that they would be able to manage people who create spreadsheets, assemble widgets, analyze data, etc. But if you think about it, there is no reason this should necessarily be true. The skills that make someone a successful leader are typically very different from the skills that make someone a good accountant or machine operator or engineer.
What many newly promoted managers (and the people who promote them, for that matter) fail to recognize is that the fundamental difference between “management” and “leadership.” Management refers to actions and behaviors to direct employees to complete tasks and meet objectives. It involves task-oriented behaviors with a focus on resources like materials, time and information. By contrast, “leadership” refers to actions and behaviors to inspire employees and provide vision and direction. These are more results-oriented behaviors — what is to be achieved and why, as opposed to how to achieve it — and focus on people, communication and emotions.
Chances are your rock star employee is pretty good at management. After all, being good at the tasks that make up the job and knowing how to use resources to produce effective results are what made them a rock star in the first place. But being a good manager says nothing about their ability to be a good leader — that is, their ability to communicate a clear vision of their goals, inspire their employees and manage conflict and frustration. And while management skills are important, in the end what is really going to determine if your newly promoted employee succeeds is leadership. As Ross Perot once said “People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed. People must be led.”
Many common leadership models and theories boil down to this fundamental distinction between management and leadership and how to balance those two behaviors in a effective way. For example, in our Fundamental Leadership Concepts webinar and on-site manager training we teach participants how to use the Situational Leadership model. This model identifies four basic leadership styles — Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating — which vary depending on the amount of directive or task-oriented behavior (i.e. “management”) versus the amount of supportive or results-oriented behavior (i.e. “leadership”) the leader uses in a given situation. The key to the model is to identify which style is appropriate for a given situation depending on the task at hand and whether the employee being asked to complete that task is competent and committed to performing that task and for the leader to then adjust their behaviors to fit the situation.
But if the leader is so focused on management because they have never really been taught how to engage in leadership behaviors, or even recognize the importance of those skills, they are going to wind up using the same leadership style (Directing) in every situation whether it’s appropriate or not. That is quickly going to lead to frustration, resentment, and lack of understanding and motivation among the employees being led and ultimately have a negative impact on morale and productivity.
So don’t just promote your rock stars without making sure they have the right foundation of knowledge to succeed. That may mean sending them to some formal leadership training or arranging for such training at your site; providing books or other resources on leadership skills or theory; connecting them with another successful leader inside or outside the organization who can help mentor them; or some combination of the above. Without some effort to help your newly promoted employee succeed in their new role, it is far more likely you will just lose a rock star without gaining a valuable, new leader.
Join us on September 13 for our Fundamental Leadership Concepts webinar. This is an introduction to basic leadership principles, the Situational Leadership model, and understanding employee motivations. This webinar is a distillation of our full day, on-site customized leadership training and can be a useful way for HR and training staff to evaluate content and determine if this course would be a good fit for their organization. For more information about leadership or other HR topics, please contact us.
David works with our clients and consultants on a wide range of HR compliance and strategic issues with a particular focus on healthcare reform. He has previously practiced law in private practice and worked in the Minnesota court system. David has a law degree, magna cum laude, from the University
David works with our clients and consultants on a wide range of HR compliance and strategic issues with a particular focus on healthcare reform. He has previously practiced law in private practice and worked in the Minnesota court system. David has a law degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Minnesota, received his undergrad from Gustavus Adolphus College and is a member of the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM).
A recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported 94% of leaders feel employee engagement is an important or very important workforce challenge. An engaged workforce increases operational income by over 19%, while a disengaged workforce can drain over 34% of an organizations’ operational income. Additional risks of low engagement can be seen in increased turnover, low customer satisfaction ratings and even increased employment litigation.
I had the opportunity to speak recently at a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conference where I shared my experience from my former career as a flight attendant. There’s a parallel between my previous office, an airplane, and a more traditional office when thinking about the importance of trust in connecting with and motivating people.
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