One of the greatest tragedies in the American business world is that we promote people because they are good at what they do and not because they have any particular talent for managing and leading people. In other words, we take our star players, make them coaches, and expect them to channel those star talents through those who work for them. Compounding the problem is the fact that we rarely provide new managers with any kind of training around the people side of management, thus setting them up for failure. So, it’s only natural for new bosses to get frustrated when they fail to produce what they did as star players. The result is they often fall back on using (and often abusing) the power of their position to force their employees to take action. This often leads to harsh directives and raised voices. In other words, mayhem ensues. This is what I refer to as the “player to coach” phenomenon.
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Not Everyone Wants to be the Boss!
Not everybody aspires to be a manager and managing isn’t for everybody. According to a 2014 CareerBuilder survey only one third of American workers aspire to leadership roles The survey also found that of those who did not aspire to managerial roles 34% indicated it was because they wanted to retain their work-life balance. The reality is that most people prefer playing over coaching.
The challenge is finding innovative ways to continue rewarding your star players for their star performances. Keep in mind most star professional sports players make more than their coaches and never have to take on people responsibilities. The problem is that we don’t do enough to encourage this type of development of our star players at work (AKA great practitioners and subject matter experts). Consider developing practitioner tracks that parallel management tracks but lead to an “expert” status as opposed to a leadership role. Don’t be afraid to reward performance with money instead of management.
The Double Whammy of a Failed Promotion
When a coach sidelines their star player the team feels it. The impact is no different when you promote a star performer off the line and into management. Beyond their own contributions, star players often bring an energy and confidence to the team that elevates the level of play for everyone. Replacing this can be tough, especially when it’s premature.
What creates the double whammy is the fact you have not only taken your star off the field, you have also now burdened your team with having to manage upwards. A star player who isn’t ready to leave the field will still be hungry to perform. They now are faced with the task of working through their peers as opposed to alongside them, which can be a trying experience for both parties.
Let Your Star Players Play and Coaches Coach
Star players have always been rewarded for doing it their way. They can readily identify their own talents and are keenly aware of what makes them successful. However, when it comes to recognizing and drawing out the talents of others, they tend to struggle. Their natural inclination is to compete rather than teach, which can make managing former peers a bit of a challenge.
Great coaches, on the other hand, will identify the strengths of a player, work to draw them out, and then position that player in a way that will exploit those strengths for the benefit of the team. They are chess players, focused on strategy and always looking to control the board. Great coaches thrive on working through people to achieve outcomes. Their gratification comes from choreographing the successful performance of stars, not being the star.
Good management is more than just putting points on the board. When it comes to making promotional decisions, managers and executives need to be thoughtful in their choices and provide the right training. Backtracking after you promoted them, in a ‘sink or swim’ fashion, doesn’t serve you or the employee.
Next week I’ll post From Player to Coach Part 2 – How to Spot Future Managers