Becoming a leader of people should be a more deliberate process than it typically is.
Too often organizations simply recruit their next leaders from high-producing individual contributors. The most efficient dental hygienist, the most creative digital designer, or the top-producing sales professional becomes the next team leader.
At first blush, that process seems logical, until you recognize that few skills that make a great dental hygienist, digital designer, or sales producer transfer to leading people.
In fact, those skills often conflict with the competencies of leadership.
This in no way disqualifies the top-producing individual from a promotion to leadership, but let’s be clear: achieving goals as an individual, month after month, has little to no correlation to helping others do the same.
As you’re surveying your leadership bench strength, consider these traits of great leaders:
- They develop an abundance mentality. This means leaders don’t think in terms of scarcity but rather abundance; they share credit, attention, and resources and metaphorically shine the spotlight on their teams, not just themselves.
- They demonstrate empathy. They balance speaking with listening and believe they are not valued for being the smartest person in the room but for appreciating other people’s ideas, passions, and struggles.
- They genuinely like to see others succeed. They delight in the success of those around them, including championing and promoting people who might eventually earn more income than themselves.
- They value relationships. They understand that a leader’s role is to model and develop mutually trusting relationships to ensure smooth communication and clarity at every juncture.
- They understand how to build connections and the power of culture. This requires admitting when they are wrong, offering apologies without excuses, and caring for the professional and personal wellbeing of their team members.
- They constantly move outside their comfort zone to offer high-courage feedback to others on their blind spots in a way that ensures the relationship remains intact. They also create the conditions for others to provide feedback on their own leadership style and make it safe for team members to talk openly and transparently about what’s working—and most importantly, what’s not.
Add your own criteria to this list, and be certain to clearly explain what you value—and what you don’t—to those team members who want to move into leadership. Many high-producing individual contributors either don’t know or don’t understand which old skills they may need to leave behind and which new skills they need to build.
Can star individual contributors become leaders of people? Of course. And more of them will succeed if you’re brutally honest with them about this leadership truth: the skills that helped them achieve their individual success may not be what helps them achieve success leading others.
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