Last year, leadership rose to become one of the most pressing talent challenges faced by
global organizations. Deloitte University Press stated, “nearly 9 out of 10 global HR and
business leaders (86 percent) cited leadership as a top issue.” This, coupled with the
widening gap between organizational leadership needs and leaders available to meet
those needs indicates what many of us already know, most companies have been unable
to successfully develop their current leaders as well as build an effective leadership
pipeline for the future.

Many organizations propose leadership training as the recommended solution for this
problem (and trust me, I am all for leadership training), but I believe that ignores the core
leadership deficiency in most organizations. Before training, must come selection and
most organizations do a poor job of selecting leaders.

Most supervisors and managers are promoted first and foremost because of their technical
skills and often that is the source of the problem. Starting with first time supervisors,
many are promoted for the wrong reasons and this is the source of the problem. Many
supervisors become supervisors because they were good at their previous position. If
they worked as customer service representatives, they stood out as customer service
representatives. If they worked as engineers, they were stood out as engineers. If they
were sales people, their sales were above average.

But there is an inherent problem with this: The skills necessary to succeed in a
leadership, supervisory, or managerial role are completely different than those necessary
to succeed in a non-managerial role. Yet, as people’s roles travel from contributing to
leadership, the skills necessary succeed go from technical and specific, to tactical and
social. Where as a contributor, the ability to handle specific task, may have been critical,
as a leader the ability to motivate and instill vision within people is an absolute must.

Although the ability to perform is an absolute must when looking for candidates who can
take on greater leadership responsibility, data shows that high performance does not
equal high leadership potential. CEB, a member-based executive team advisory company,
says that just one in six high-performance employees also exhibit the attributes that
indicate leadership potential. Research from the Corporate Leadership Council of the
Corporate Executive Board indicates that only 15% of high performers show high
leadership potential. There are many other surveys that have produced similar results.
The bottom line is clear, being a top performer is not an accurate indicator of leadership
potential.

Many organizations never consider this when promoting people into leadership positions.
Instead it is assumed that because they excelled beyond their peers, they should be
promoted above their peers, yet in reality many of these new leaders do not posses the
skills needed to succeed in management. For these individual, the words of Marshall
Goldsmith ring true, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

Unfortunately, most organizations have no alternative method of rewarding their top
performers. There are many who are subject matter experts in their field, who in the best
interest of everyone involved should remain as such. But too often, the only way to work
your way up the ladder and increase your compensation is to take on a supervisory role.

Let’s use baseball as analogy to show how unreasonable this really is. Let’s say that a
baseball team has an all-star catcher. This catcher is the best player on the team. No
manager in his (or her) right mind would entertain the idea of moving that catcher to the
first base in the name of upward mobility (on average 1 st basemen make approximate
74% more than catchers). That would be a horrible idea, but unfortunately, in the
workplace it happens everyday. Lineman are moved to receivers, catchers are moved to
first base, centers are moved to point guard, and left wings are moved to goalie, and the
team suffers.

Not only is this not in the best interest of the organization (we need more people who
really know their areas of expertise inside and out and who love learning more about
them), its’ not in the best interest of the people they will attempt to lead. And many of
these individuals end up resenting their new roles and miss being “in the trenches” of
whatever they were doing before. But what are they going to do, turn down the
opportunity to be more highly compensated for what they bring to the table? Stall their
career path because there is no alternative?

Organizations must decide to choose potential over performance as a basis for leadership
selection. In addition to this, an alternative career path needs to be developed that
rewards high performers who are not capable of effectively taking on leadership roles.
Until this occurs, we will continue to see a shortage of effective leaders.

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