General Training, Leadership

Avoiding the Trap of Making Managers out of Great Individual Contributors

One of the most obvious ways companies reward great service is through promotion. Moving a hardworking, loyal, and capable person into a position of greater authority is a clear sign to that employee, as well as the entire organization, that you value what he or she brings to the table.


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Often, such a promotion means the responsibility of managing subordinates. But, as Jeff Boss points out, the skills that make someone a great individual performer often have nothing to do with managing others.

“Sometimes people are promoted to manager because they were exceptional individual contributors,” he says. “The assumption is that he or she will be just as good at managing people, too.”

For example, just because you have a brilliant software developer on staff doesn’t mean he or she has the interpersonal and organizational skills required to manage others and structure a team’s work. But that doesn’t mean you can’t move these people up in the organization.

Here are some possible strategies.

Promotions Without Management

It’s possible to promote people without assigning direct reports to them. The benefit for the employees could include greater autonomy, as well as increased salary and prestige. Adding “senior” or “principal” or some other modifier to their current title, along with a pay increase, if appropriate, can serve as a reward without making any organizational changes.

Identifying Good Leaders

As noted above, great individual performers aren’t necessarily great leaders. But some of them are. Pay attention to the skilled players on your staff in their interactions with others. Do they have the types of skills you’re looking for in a manager?

Developing Good Leaders

Even if you can’t identify someone with great technical skills and leadership ability, that doesn’t mean you can’t ultimately promote that star player to a management position. Consider putting him or her through some kind of leadership development program, and let the person know that he or she is being groomed for a possible promotion.

Proficiency at an individual skill set doesn’t always translate into the skills required to manage a team. Many companies promoting individuals on merit focus too much on aptitude at the person’s current position and not enough on aptitude in the skills needed to succeed as a manager.