From worker bee to leader what not to be

One of the largest mistakes I have made in a leadership role was not realizing early on in my career that what gets someone success as a front-line employee or worker is not what will help them succeed in a leadership role.

I myself have taken note of great individual performance and worked to reward that through internal promotions yet did not cover at all what might be required of the person in a leadership role.

Looking back, I know see it much more clearly which I will endeavor to describe.

First, an individual on the front-limes might possess great technical known and be skilled at what they do. This could even involve actual physical dexterity or ability to produce a lot of output of work at a high quality. 

They might posses a sense of personal drive to succeed and excel in whatever the are doing and know an understand their roles and responsibilities keenly.

A large number of organizations reward individual performance and not surprising, the superstar employee might often get recognition and praise and even financial rewards.

These individuals might also be well liked on a personal level by their peers and clients alike.

All of which I have described you will likely agree are good elements and can offer positive results for the organization.

Now, consider this great individual performer is given a promotion based on these elements. That individual might surmise that since they were rewarded as such for these quality, it would make sense to continue along this path.

Again, I myself did not factor that a person such as this might need more specific and concrete guidance on what they might truly need in a leadership position.

First and foremost, contrast to technical knowledge and skills, in leadership role, strong people skills are required. This is what is referred to as “soft skills,” and I can assure you, not only does not this not get taught in Business school, it may reflect the hardest skills to acquire.

This might seem somewhat obvious, yet, I have witnessed first-hand how people who were very successful on the front-lines struggled substantially after being promoted to a leadership role. Indeed, given the proper support and time, a person can develop “soft skills,” yet many do not. 

In my perspective, this is something that should be discussed specifically and a strategy to gain these skills should be openly discussed. I would assert that this element is even more important if the individual given the promotion will have as subordinates staff were former peers at the same level. 

From my experience, this is one of the most challenging aspects of any internal promotion process.

Moreover, in leadership, one might have to stop focusing on their own individual success and performance and apply efforts towards team building and developing others.

Additionally, more important that taking action towards trying to achieve results for the organization, a new leader may need to spend more time listening than doing. 

From my observations, superstar frontline employees have a hard time not taking immediate actions. They are used to being decisive and taking actions and getting rewards.

To be someone who truly listens, is to also be someone who is approachable, objectives, personable and empathetic. This is not always easy for those superstar employees as their bar and measure for others can at times be at the same level of their past high-level of performance. This can create missed-matched or even unrealistic expectations between the leader and the subordinate. 

You won’t be surprised that in these instances conflicts can arise and the leader is more so compromised than the subordinate negatively impacting the relationship.

Lastly, being liked and perhaps even popular might not be what a leader needs to focus on. Being passionate for what the organization and what the team does and being consistent in actions and words is of paramount importance. 

With respect to consistency, a leader should not create or reinforce different parameters for themselves at a higher level then what is being applied to staff and apply.

The lesson I have learned to to take a different approach to evaulating if a person can make a transition from a superstar individual performer to a leadership role. 

Moreover, an open dialogue needs to take place between all those involved, including the team members that might newly report to a former peer. 

Needless to say, a training plan may be required and expectations made clear to all.

For the team members who might have wanted the position for themselves or may have some animosity, I will say one thing; we are all leaders of at least one person, ourselves. What we each choose to do or not do is a choice and our own decision. 

I will end this passage with three questions.

Looking at this, do you see where you are currently and where the gaps in your approach might be in your leadership style and approach?

Where do you want to go, and what might you need to work on?

What is the step 1 in your journey?