Why do individual contributors miss the mark when they transition into leadership roles? According to Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chairman and CEO, it’s because 82% of the time, we are “failing to choose the candidate with the right talent.”
In their research, Gallup identified 5 “talent dimensions” — Motivator, Assertiveness, Accountability, Relationships, and Decision-Making. According to Gallup, individuals who demonstrate these characteristics are more likely to be successful managers. And while it’s true that some people might be born with these innate competencies, these strengths can also be developed in individual contributors who choose to pursue a leadership role — be it in the traditional sense (people management) or not.
Not everyone can be a people manager, but anyone can choose to be a leader. And organizations need to get better at identifying and developing motivated individuals who seek to pursue leadership opportunities while simultaneously supporting talented ICs who find more meaning and purpose in that role.
The Peter Principle suggests that being really good at thing A leads to a promotion to do thing B, where thing B requires a skillset that has yet to be demonstrated. Following this common promotion methodology, individuals often rise in the organization to a level or role they are not competent to hold.By the time we discover the IC wasn’t well matched for the transition into the leadership role, it’s too late.Click To Tweet
In the case of leadership, ICs who transition beyond their existing skill set will fail to engage team members. As a result, high performers will start to walk out the door. The newly-transitioned leader will also likely experience high levels of anxiety and low levels of engagement from being overly challenged. By the time we discover the IC wasn’t prepared for a leadership role, it’s already too late.
The question is, how can organizations and leaders promoting ICs carve out opportunities to develop talents that are well-suited for leadership while simultaneously supporting and engage those who subsequently remain in IC roles?
First, we need to ensure our organization offers two equally appealing career development tracks for ICs and people managers. Equally appealing means both tracks provide sufficient motivation to bring out the best in people. According to Ed Deci and Richard Ryan, the three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction are:
Even though money has not been shown to be a top motivator for performance and satisfaction, it is part of our decision-making process (more on this later). So, both tracks must be financially appealing – not necessarily equal – but appealing enough that people don’t spend their career doing a job they are not well-suited just, just for a paycheck.
What makes a good people leader may differ from organization to organization. Not all organizations have the resources and data analytics know-how as Google, but it is one organization that has gone through the effort of discerning predictive leadership analytics. The company’s research establishes a list of the eight leadership behaviors of great Google managers. Whether you want to determine your own predictive behaviors or adopt those from another organization or management theory, predictive analytics is one way to get better at identifying those who may be well-suited to people management roles.
Don’t wait until ICs have transitioned into people management roles. Set them on the right track with “leadership preparation” as soon as they are identified as a high potential (HiPo) IC for a future transition. For simplicity sake, I’ll give a couple of suggestions on how you might develop talents into strengths for the top 2 Google manager behaviors:
CoachingCoaching is not about giving someone the answers to try out for themselves.Click To Tweet
Leaders’ coaching abilities have been shown to be associated with improvement in team’s sales figures, employee satisfaction, and job performance. Many organizations invite senior level ICs into mentoring relationships to share their knowledge and expertise with those is less knowledgeable roles. Mentors freely share their experiences and deliver advice or suggested direction. But coaching is not about giving someone the answers to try out for themselves. Coaching is based on the belief that the coachee is intelligent, resourceful, and already has the answers to their own success or, at minimum, an idea that could lead to success.
A big part of empowering others and not micromanaging is being comfortable with delegation. My own mentor, a Senior Level Executive in an energy infrastructure company, shared her delegation motto: “Do not do for others as they could and should do for themselves.” First time leaders struggle to trust others to do the work because it was only a short time ago that they were being rewarded for creating impact through their direct efforts. It can be a challenging mindset switch to let go and step back to empower teammates to execute the work. I’ve experienced many first-time leaders approach delegation with very black and white thinking: I am doing it or you are doing it. But there are many levels of delegation. For an IC, there may be little opportunity to practice developing this talent into a strength.
Just because your organization’s predictive analytics show an IC would make a great leader, doesn’t mean that’s the track they will want to take. Many ICs find it paralyzing to decide between continuing as an IC or transitioning to leadership. Often, the decision is approached from what Bill Burnett, author of Designing Your Life and Executive Director at Stanford’s design program, calls “dysfunctional beliefs.” In this case, the belief that “I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan, and then execute it.” ICs get stuck trying to “get it right” and fear that their decisions are not reversible without due consequence. Since the outcome of their decision impacts your organization’s success, think about investing in a coach to help guide them through this pivotal decision.A failed experiment isn’t really failure, but a successful endeavor into designing a future career. Click To Tweet
A coach can help reframe dysfunctional beliefs to be more constructive: “There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.” This is the reframe that Bill claims allows us to design our own lives the same way designers might build a new product – by prototyping and testing out different career paths without feeling committed to either of them for the rest of our lives. Here are some ways the great organizations I coach within create opportunities for their ICs to proto-type:
If they do take the opportunity to prototype in a leadership role, make sure you are on top of managing the predictive analytics while they are test driving.
A first-time leader may find the role doesn’t align well with their strengths or the type of work activities that make them feel alive. Perhaps they fail miserably on their leadership assessments. All of these scenarios are a win for the IC and a win for the organization. A failed experiment isn’t really failure, but a successful endeavor into designing a future career.
The main reason ICs fail the transition to leadership is due to a lack of awareness of their own strengths and personal insight into what career path they would thrive in. By bringing awareness into this decision — both on an individual and organizational level — we can effectively predict which ICs will be their best selves in leadership roles and support those who choose to grow in IC roles. Either way, leadership is a choice, and the talents associated with it can be developed in those who choose this path.