It’s not a new notion, things becoming victims of their own success: the worker who is so good at difficult tasks he/she now gets ALL the tough assignments, an efficient project manager now gets held to unrealistic deadlines, a rookie debuts as an all-star only to succumb to steroids under the pressure of continued greatness, companies setting next quarter’s goals off of a stellar previous quarter, and so on. It’s easy to get caught up in success. And while some pitfalls are more apparent than others, some are hard to see. In the realm of management, success as an individual contributor can be the key factor in someone’s downfall as a supervisor.
It’s a common tale: the star performer gets promoted because they are the best on the team at the job…and then they very quickly prove themselves incapable as a manager. They try hard and they want to do a great job but it just isn’t working out for them, the employees, or the company in many cases. One factor (as I have mentioned in other articles) is lack of proper training and support, but a big reason could be the success they enjoyed as a star performing “doer.”
After all this is why they got promoted, right? They were the best at doing the job. So it stands to reason that THEIR way was the best way; at least this is what people tell themselves, consciously or unconsciously. As a result you get micromanagement, the hoarding of knowledge, incomplete delegation, supervision of activity rather than results, etc. Sadly, training does not fix this in most cases because most trainings focus on increasing skills, not awareness. So how do you address this potential roadblock?
Step one is selecting the right candidate for the position. I am not suggesting you pick someone who is not good at their jobs. What I am suggesting is it can’t be your ONLY criteria. The skills and qualities required to be a successful supervisor are not the same as those required to produce a widget, manage a project, create a presentation, or whatever their job happens to be. Promoting someone to supervision solely based on their skill with things might provide you with a supervisor who is just that, good with things, not people.
Step two is being clear about WHY you chose him/her. Yes, for sure the abilities and skill at his/her job is an asset, but how they capitalize on those skills and abilities is very important. If your intent was to get the employees to do things exactly as they did, then by all means tell them that and stop reading this post – you’ll get the drones you are looking for. If you are looking to improve the performance of the group in some way, let them know WHY you think they are the best person to do that and HOW they can use their skills and abilities that are beyond just doing the job. This is the first part of step three.
Step three is give them more than a handshake to show your support. is a contributor to the difficulty of making the transition. Let’s face it, most people are promoted with a handshake and then told “let me know if you need anything.” The assumption is that great employees are also great managers – despite experience telling us a vastly different story. When they first get hired into non-supervisory positions most people get at least a few days of training. They learn the processes, the best practices, regulations, skills, and expectations of their new role. Yet, a vast majority of managers get nothing. At best they are invited to a few initial meetings to meet people or update them on what projects and goals are in progress. They need training and support and this is where another potential issue can arise.
Entrance to supervision is often the point in people’s career where they are expected to be in charge of their own development. It is now up to them to search, select, enroll, and actually LEARN what they want to learn. This, of course rarely happens, and this may be why. For starters, to this point the employee has had no budgetary decision-making authority, except on how to SAVE the company money. So to look good from a budget perspective, most will not seek out anything that cost money (nevermind, that many are unsure how much they have authority to spend.) Also, they believe they were promoted because they were the best; they were smart, intelligent, and capable – asking for help might imply or hint that they are not those things, and thereby unworthy of the promotion. So most managers will never self select training especially not at the onset, whether it is for fear of spending money or fear of looking incapable, the end result is the same. Nevermind the fact (as I said before) most training is about enhancing skills, not awareness. So even if they do select training and go, their focus tends to be on how they can impact their employees rather than self-reflection and grown.
Preventing the irony of success is more about changing self belief than it is about learning a new skill. Changing beliefs is hard and much of it begins with how we interpret and assign meaning to certain events. Easier than changing a belief that does not serve you is starting with one that does. Pick the right person, tell them why they are the right person for the job, and help them get more support than they think they need.
It is not success itself that fails, it is the belief that what made you successful today is the same as what will make you successful tomorrow.