Business owners who follow conventional thinking are likely to promote their best performers to high-level positions, but research indicates that this could actually be a big mistake.
In fact, there are many studies that highlight the differences between top performers and their level of engagement with the company they work for, and the results are not at all what most owners would expect. Due to this, your best bet is to look more closely for leadership potential in lower-tier employees and understand that there’s a big difference between true leaders and mere managers.
Although this may seem like unusual advice, taking a close look at a handful of traits will make it clear that the majority of your best performers are not the right choice to take on a higher level of responsibility.
Being a skilled worker does not necessarily equate to having the ability to lead others. Studies since the ’90s have found that leadership skills are at least partially an innate trait, and it can also be more difficult to get naturally advanced workers to attend training sessions. After all, they may view these sessions as a waste of time, and their brains are wired for personal success as opposed to company-wide improvements.
If you carefully consider the traits that you appreciate in your best workers, you will quickly begin to realize that they typically get their work done faster and more accurately than their coworkers. This highlights a high level of competency, but it also proves that they tend to work alone instead of in a group.
In other words, they are not acclimated to being part of a team, and this will make it much harder to transition into team leadership. A Gallup poll states that 82% of managers are a poor fit, and you cannot afford the reduction in morale that will be caused by someone who is not a natural team leader.
You probably assume that your top performers are also highly engaged with your company, but this assumption is wrong almost half of the time.
A study that was conducted by Leadership IQ provided some very surprising results: Approximately 42% of the top workers in the U.S. feel disengaged and report feeling unmotivated on the job. This was ultimately linked to poor management performance, and it seems unlikely that these individuals would suddenly become highly engaged due to a title change.
Boredom is the number-one enemy of extremely intelligent workers, and it can easily make them unsuitable as leaders. A recent MIT study of top-performing drone operators found that boredom causes them to lose focus. These operators fill time by eating snacks and playing with their smartphones instead of remaining committed to the task at hand.
Supervising others can cause the same type of boredom, especially when someone is used to being hands-on at all times.
Top performers are typically able to meet all of their personal metrics for success, and this leaves them feeling satisfied. But when they’re forced to sink or swim based on the performance of others, they are much more likely to be unhappy at work.
Motivational programs can temporarily improve their personal performance by as much as 40% according to research from the University of Southern California, but their quick boredom and overall lack of engagement and leadership skills will make it harder to keep an entire team motivated to reach a shared goal.
What does this mean to you?
Many companies make the mistake of turning to their top performers when looking for their next generation of leaders. But the approach proves to be more counterproductive than helpful not only for the companies but more often to their employees.
So next time your company is looking to evaluate for your next leadership team, don’t just focus on the top performers. Look for leaders, not just managers.
Jonha Revesencio is a marketing strategist with over eight years’ experience developing digital media strategies for finance, FMCG, and tech companies. She has worked on the interactive and digital campaigns for brands such as IKEA, Dove, Panasonic, and OCBC Bank, among others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter @jonharules.