Why Stars Sometimes Fail as Leaders

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Why Stars Sometimes Fail as Leaders

A bright and promising software engineer, we’ll call him Jay, had made a real mark on his company, developing and innovating some of the most important products and processes in the organization’s portfolio. One Friday, Jay’s boss called him into his office and told him,  “You’re so good at what you do that we’ve decided to make you a manager in this department! You start on Monday, and you’ve got all weekend to figure out how to do the job.”

Jay soon found himself in a position for which he was ill-suited and even less well-trained. He knew how to do the work, but not how to lead others to do the same. He’d never had any training, or maybe he just wasn’t cut out for this. Whatever the reason, ultimately, he failed. His boss offered to quietly return him to his former position. Nobody needed to know why. But Jay couldn’t do it. He left. He got another job, as a software engineer. But it didn’t have to happen this way.

It’s a classic story, repeated over and over, in workplaces everywhere. Let’s take someone who’s really good at the technical part of their job, and make them a manager. Or, we hire someone to fill a managerial position, with absolutely no regard to their leadership capabilities.

Those organizations that seem to get the most from a workforce of engaged employees, though, know there’s a better way. They make leadership skills, values, and behaviors a primary consideration for everyone in a supervisory, management, or executive position. They screen for it. Then they help their managers develop their leadership skills, and they evaluate, and reward them, not only for their results, but for their leadership.

Here’s a suggestion: Sit down today, and identify a set of leadership skills and behaviors, maybe things like integrity, ability to influence, compassion, optimism, listening skills, decisiveness… That’s a short list, but it’s a start. Skills and behaviors that you’ll use as qualifiers – primary qualifiers – for anyone you hire as a manager, or promote to a managerial position.

Managing work and processes is relatively easy, compared to leading people. The most successful managers are those with well defined leadership values, and well developed leadership skills. The most successful organizations are those that place a premium on having managers who are also great leaders.

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