Tom Peters famously said “True leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.” If you’re a leader, your whole purpose in business is to help others develop into the best person they can be and contribute meaningfully to an organization. This, of course, means identifying potential future leaders who can be groomed to move from high performing individual contributor to high performing leader.
This shift doesn’t come easily, though. Over half of the individuals who are placed in formal high potential programs leave within the first five years. Because we are confident that past performance predicts future performance, we make the logical error of assuming that past performance in one role predicts future performance in an entirely different role. It’s apples and oranges, really. Finding success as an individual is markedly different from finding success through leading others.
One of the first challenges a high performing individual contributor turned leader will experience is managing average employees. For many high performers, the job comes easily. They have the right combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and attributes to navigate work tasks easily and hit goals consistently. They also have an innate drive to be successful and an inner locus of control. They are successful because it is in their DNA. They don’t know how to fail.
And that mindset may be the toughest challenge to overcome as a first-time frontline leader. For someone who finds success so easily as a “doer” it can be frustrating to coach others who lack that same DNA for high performance. The new leader who lacks the developmental toolbox of a seasoned leader may find themselves saying things like “I did it. Why can’t you do what I did?” or worse, they’ll stop trying to coach entirely and transition back into doing the job themselves.
The first frontline leadership position isn’t the place to determine if your A-Player can lead a B-Player, though. Instead of throwing a high performing individual contributor into the fire of frontline leadership, start mentoring programs earlier in the talent pipeline. Ask A-Players to mentor B- and C-Players prior to naming them a High Potential. This gives the high performer an opportunity to test the idea of leadership without giving up their identity as a top performing individual contributor. Additionally, the organization doesn’t lose a high performing individual that may struggle as a leader.
True leaders lead without a title. Stop looking to turn all of your high performers into potential leaders, and start looking for natural leaders who acknowledge and nurture the unique gifts every individual brings to the organization.
“Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.” Orrin Woodward