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Is Your Star Performer Ready to Lead?

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

Knowing when someone is ready for leadership is not always clear. A star performer may have high quality skills, exceptional performance, and a great attitude but does that mean they can get the same performance out of others?

Senior leaders are sometimes burned by either promoting staff into leadership too soon or by not realizing some solo performers make bad managers. Worse, they fail to recognize the impact of promoting a peer (or buddy) into the management role (the boss.) This particular “buddy to boss” dynamic can be sticky and fraught with interpersonal challenges especially if others on the team competed for the position.

Leaders are wise to take a step back and thoughtfully evaluate whether their star performer is truly ready to lead and build followership. This week we dive into what to look for in that star performer to ensure they are ready to make the leap to leader.

Can they set personal opinions aside?

New leaders who ask questions and listen will build rapport (and respect) faster with their team than those who tout their experience and opinions. Star performers know they are good at what they do. How they talk about their performance can be the deciding factor on whether they can build followership.

Who are you more interested in following? The person who talks more about themselves and makes their opinions known first, or the person who is genuinely interested in your ideas? Star performers who can put their personal opinions aside and listen to the team are positioned to do well in a leadership role.

Can they focus on the future?

Focusing on the past is a long road to nowhere. The past is a place we have no control over and leaders who talk about the past often unintentionally demotivate their teams. Some new leaders will discuss the work they did at past companies or the how they performed the work prior to becoming a leader. Most people find that information unhelpful because the circumstances of the past are often quite different than the present.

Having an ability to focus on the future and (metaphorically) “paint a picture” of the impact the team will make in their work is an important leadership skill. When considering someone for leadership, consider their ability to be future focused. It will position them for leadership success.

Can they step away socially?

Those new to leadership often have a desire to be liked and to achieve this, they engage with the team socially. This looks like going to happy hours, eating lunch together, or hanging out during “off hours” social engagements. Especially at the start of the new leadership role, these behaviors can compromise effectiveness, not enhance it. It makes it very difficult to hold people accountable, maintain confidentiality, and be impartial when the desire to be friends is a priority.

While being friendly and engaging socially is acceptable (even beneficial) to team development, leadership isn’t about being friends. If this is something important to the star performer who is being considered for leadership, then it might be indicator that they aren’t ready.

Can they ask for and receive feedback?

There is much to learn when leading for the first time so a willingness to examine one’s actions and impact is key. Star performers don’t often get critical feedback because they perform consistently at a high level. Getting results through others, or leading, entails different skills that often require receiving advice and even critique. The more open a new leader is to feedback, the faster they will learn and ultimately perform in their new role. Star performers who debate or appear defensive with any feedback provided may not be immediately ready for leadership.

Can they let go?

High performers are exceptionally skilled at getting work done. When problems arise, they solve them independently. When balls are dropped or deadlines are missed, they are usually the one to step up and get the work done themselves. They tend to be heroes, swooping in to save the day.

This is great for individual performance but not great for leadership. In instances like these, the new leader must be ready to let go of their own skills and either teach those skills to the team, or lead the team through the problem-solving. If balls are dropped, then holding others accountable for that work is required. This is a frequent leadership activity, managing workload and the problems that come with it. The behaviors that position people for leadership is a willingness to hit pause, think about the problem, and get the right people involved, instead of solving that problem on their own.

These five questions are a starting point for considering a star performer for leadership. If, as their boss, you've never discussed these concepts with them, start there. Talk with them about the differences between individual performance and leadership.

The good news is that even if the answer is No to one or more of the questions, it doesn’t mean the person can’t be a manager. It just means they may need a little more time to develop the traits that will set them up for success.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.


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