Why Top Performers Often Become Bad Bosses

Everyone has heard the cautionary tales of good employees turning into horrible bosses. We observe high performers suddenly finding it difficult to lead a team and wonder what went wrong. We discover that their initial job talents may not necessarily convert to their promoted role by seeing newly promoted managers struggle. Since the 1960s, people have been speculating about this. The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, a satirical book written in 1969 by Canadian educator Laurence J. Peter, revealed a sad truth: Management tends to encourage good rule-followers until they turn into bad leaders.

Every employee in a hierarchy tends to advance to his degree of incompetence,” as Peter cynically observes. Although the book’s business examples were made up, its satire of inept management resonated with workers all across the world and quickly rose to the top of bestseller lists. There is now data to support it.

According to researchers, effective managerial abilities are not correlated with good work performance.

Researchers: Good job performance does not correlate with good management skills

Do the best employees make for the worst bosses, as suggested by the Peter Principle? This is the issue that researchers from Minneapolis, MIT, and Yale University set out to answer. They present evidence in favour of the Peter Principle in a new research that was just published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

They discovered that businesses will concentrate “current job success in promotion decisions at the expense of other observable traits that better predict managerial performance” after examining the sales worker performance at 214 companies. Each time a salesperson quadrupled their sales, their chances of getting a promotion improved by around 14%. But just because a person is good at completing transactions doesn’t automatically make them a good team leader.

The researchers discovered that when salespeople were promoted to management positions, they had less success motivating their colleagues to achieve sales targets. Sales actually dropped by an average of 7.5 percent on teams under the leadership of managers who had doubled sales while they were working alone.

Team players show better leadership.

The study pushes us to redefine top performance in a way that goes beyond specific metrics. Your strengths as a worker in autonomy and independence may not always translate to teamwork. When newly promoted managers excelled in teamwork, a talent that was disregarded in promotion decisions, they turned out to be good managers even though they weren’t very strong at increasing sales figures. Sales collaborators, or “the number of coworkers with whom a worker shared credit on transactions,” made excellent managers who saw a 30% rise in sales for their teams.

Companies need to reconstruct what high performance truly looks like so that abilities like teamwork be recognised in order to locate good managers among a sea of hard workers.

The report cautions that “the costs of not elevating the greatest potential managers are considerable.” “Firms appear willing to sacrifice a 30% increase in subordinate performance to obtain greater rewards or to avoid expensive politicking,” according to a study.

What Athletic Sports Taught Us

According to cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College at Columbia University Sian Beilock, some players favour former players as trainers because that is what they are accustomed to. Excellent athletes don’t always become great coaches, according to Beilock’s studies.

Melvin Sorcher and James Brant explain this phenomena of promoting star players as the propensity for executives to overvalue operational proficiency when making promotional decisions in their article on choosing managerial talent in the Harvard Business Review. In other words, rather than focusing on their management potential, many senior managers favour elevating their top performers because of their talent as performers. Evidently, they believe that the magic will eventually spread. Sadly, this doesn’t happen very often.

This idea also holds true for golf. Consider a study by psychologists Mike Anderson and Kristin Flegal published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review .Golf pros and novices were instructed to make some short putts on a somewhat flat, straight green by the study’s researchers. The golfers then either focused on an unrelated job or spent many minutes discussing the putts they had just made. All of the golfers were then instructed to repeat the putts. The expert golfers needed twice as many tries to sink their putts as the experts who had not spent time verbalising their previous performances. The performance of novice golfers was not impacted by putt descriptions. Even after being instructed to describe what they had just done, these less experienced players slightly improved.

Similar to how studying is not teaching, playing is not coaching. However, there is still a somewhat arbitrary belief that a professional playing history is the only requirement for being a great coach. This belief is legitimated inside sporting cultures. This is obviously not the case.

There is no proof that having competed at the top levels makes someone qualified to coach there. More particular, there isn’t a predetermined bar to clear in order to qualify for future coaching success.

The Most Productive People Don’t Make the Best Managers

Jack Zenger and Josephy Folkman contend in their study, which was published in the Harvard Business Review, that “Not every top performer makes for a good manager.” They contend that six key competencies — being open to feedback and personal change, supporting others’ development, being open to innovation, communicating effectively, having good interpersonal skills, and supporting organisational changes — are what distinguish good individual contributors from good managers. The issue with the majority of firms is that they anticipate their new managers to acquire these abilities after being promoted, yet precisely at that point, when they are overworked, new managers are more likely to rely on their individual contributor skill sets. Instead, the authors advise firms to begin fostering these abilities in each employee from an early age because they are helpful for both individual contributors and teams.

Coaching the Best Leaders

The most successful leaders were not always promoted or selected based on their past successes, particularly “technical” success, but rather because of their so-called “soft skills” of emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and a belief in servant leadership. I’ve been training and coaching executives for more than thirty years in a wide range of industries and organisational sizes.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ray Williams

Ray Williams

Author/Retired Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others