Top Performing Employees May Not Be Your Best Leaders

Discover how to improve employee engagement, productivity, performance and leadership management with talent development training, strategy and planning systems.

As even the flattest of organizations grow, they find the need to add more leaders. When that growth happens quickly, organizations may look internally to see who may be able to fill those leadership shoes. One of the top metrics used in this case is employee performance. It only makes sense that top performers would move into leadership positions.

Except that sometimes it doesn’t.

Up until this point, those high performers have been assessed on skill set. Even if your performance management process includes some form of people skills in it’s evaluations, chances are good that all of the metrics that deem them a top performer, are skill based.

And yet.

Leadership positions require people management skills. Obvious, but true. Just because you have the technical skills to do a job, doesn’t mean you have the people skills to lead others. They are simply not the same thing. Further, and maybe a more important note, leadership requires a will to lead. Something that is sometimes lacking in employees who are tapped for leadership positions.

At the same time, it is an admirable characteristic and sometimes a competitive advantage of small businesses that they promote from within. So, if a business is going to make it a priority, there are a few things they should have in place before ever assuming that someone who is good in their job would be good at leading others to do that same job.

Talent Management Strategy
A robust talent management strategy ensures that employees receive ongoing development that is not only focused on improving employee performance, but enhancing the more intrinsic skills necessary for people management. While talent management strategies may seem like something only big businesses can do, I find that startups and small businesses can actually have greater success with them. Here’s how.

When businesses are small, leaders have fewer direct reports. When businesses are small, they are often more flat and have less convoluted layers that make truly effective leader to employee interaction difficult. When businesses are small, the daily interactions that leader and supervisor have naturally can become part of a talent management strategy meaning that everyone, not just top performers, can be included.

Effective talent management strategies begin in the recruitment process and never end. They heavily involve the employee’s leader. They do not have to be fancy, but they should be two-sided. Meaning the employee should be asked about their career aspirations and the role they see the organization playing in getting them there.

And when they mention leadership positions as part of the long term goals, the next phase comes into play.

Leadership Development
When we create leadership development programs, we believe an integral part is customization. For the organization of course, but more importantly for the individual. For this reason, we create an overarching leadership development training plan that allows wiggle room for each individual to create their own plan. In fact, one of the components of our programs is that every individual involved gets to create their own idea of a plan that could get them where they want to go. We then take the leadership development training that everyone must go through, mesh that with each individual’s customized plan and create an overall strategy that creates ready leaders when needed.

It sounds much more complicated than it is.

The reality is, having the desire to lead is a necessary trait to actual leadership. Sure some people are natural leaders, but others aren’t. For those, that willingness to be self aware of their shortcomings and be willing to work together and individually to overcome is essential. Asking them to come up with their own leadership development plan, helps identify how self aware they are and how willing they are going to be to work on the hard stuff.

The leadership development training should cover all the things leaders need to know such as moving from peer to supervisor or having those difficult conversations (two of our most requested training programs). It should provide basic understanding of leadership’s role in employee engagement. It will provide leaders with the basic people skills every leader needs. It is training that even outside leaders should go through once they join the organization. The training is high level, while individual leadership development plans are more detailed.

While tapping that high performer on the shoulder and moving them into a leadership role may seem like the obvious answer, it may not be the best solution. Easy, yes. Best, maybe not. The earlier an organization creates a strategy that helps them grow the talent they have into the leaders they need, the more successful they will be at actually doing so. Then their competitive advantage becomes two-fold. Having a robust talent and leadership development strategy while also promoting from within. In this day and age, individuals are willing to stick with companies who offer those things over ones who pay the most.

For organizations overwhelmed with implementing this type of initiative I always suggest to start with just one component and add on from there. Create a robust onboarding program first or a leadership development program. Even just doing a few workshops with top leaders that starts to create common language around what leadership in the organization should look like is a great and easy place to start. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, the point is to be deliberate. Make talent management and leadership development a priority and only good things can come from it.

And for my small business clients, I always say, the earlier the better. It is not nearly as time consuming or costly as you may think to implement these programs. Get ahead of it before behaviors are out of control and you have to start from a negative place. Correcting bad leadership behaviors takes much longer than cultivating them in the first place.

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