We came across this HBR article recently and have been giving it some thought ever since. It intrigued us because it highlighted how you can be an excellent technical performer without also possessing the gifts required to be a good leader. Here, we’ll recap the main thrust of their argument as well as adding a few of our own thoughts on the issue.
Why being an excellent performer doesn’t mean you’re a good leader
The HBR article cites the example of Julie Long. Julie was a top performer in the software development company for which she worked. She was regarded as an expert and a top performer in her field, so it seemed natural when she was asked to lead a team of her own. However, she soon found that she was no longer enjoying her work, and that her team was not performing at the level she had hoped for. Something was wrong.
In the course of our professional careers we have probably all known someone who we considered an expert or an excellent performer but who showed neither the capacity or inclination to lead. Perhaps this is where you find yourself in your own career right now.
Here are a few thoughts that this HBR article has provoked for us about the differences between leading and performing.
The manager’s time horizon
One critical difference between being a leader and being an expert is that your time horizon is different. working on a task is quite different from organizing a task workflow.If you are working on a task you are in the present. You are aware of the deadline, but you are immersed in the present task of getting it done. You know what you need to do day by day. By contrast, as a manager you must keep an eye to the future. You do not always have the same present satisfaction from accomplishing a task because very often all of the tasks that you oversee are works in progress.
Organizing versus performing
As a leader your focus is not performing a given task to the best of your ability, it is instead about managing the resources given to you to the best of your ability. Many excellent performers are not excellent organizers or motivators. It can be a difficult transition to go from ‘focusing on the how’ to ‘focusing on the what and when’.
We’d like to hear your stories
What have your experiences been regarding this issue? Have you found the transition from expert to manager difficult or distressing? What methods have you adopted to cope with the transition? Let us know your side of things through Twitter!