Company Vice President: “I won’t approve that. I’ve seen how he communicates, and it isn’t good.”
Company Manager: “But he’s our best analyst.”
Company Vice President: “That doesn’t mean he’ll be a good supervisor; nor does it mean people will want to follow him.”
Company Manager: “But I don’t have a better analyst.”
Company Vice President: “You might not have a better analyst, but you have a lot of good analysts, and several of them have much better communication and leadership skills.”
The above conversation happens in one form or another all too often in workplaces. In my role as a leadership coach, I’ve been involved with hiring, promoting and training management and supervisory personnel for nearly two decades. The most common mistake I see is when a production worker is promoted to a supervisory position based on the fact they are good at the current role rather than for their potential to excel in a supervisory role.
Supervising is a complete skill set, in and of itself, separate from the practical production skills of a job. To find your most promising candidate, both practical production skills and leadership skills must be assessed and considered.
To define them, leadership skills are those a person employs to influence others to behave and perform. On the other hand, practical skills are those specific to a job (e.g., the painting skills of a painter).
A few years ago, I worked with a client to hire a new supervisor in a department of approximately 90 people. The department already had nine supervisors, but they needed one more. There were seven initial candidates who were trimmed down to five through a round of initial interviews and skills assessment.
The remaining five were given identical projects to lead small teams to achieve specific goals over a two-month period.
Candidate 1 – Their team achieved average results and the candidate struggled to hold people accountable to work standards, showing reticence to have critical conversations about performance.
Candidate 2 – Their team achieved strong results. On deeper investigation, the candidate worked many extra hours and took on some of the work the employees were supposed to do. Employee productivity dropped during the trial.
Candidate 3 – Their team nearly quit. The candidate had to be pulled from the process to retain the employees who were all consistent performers with no disciplinary issues prior to the trial.
Candidate 4 – Their team had strong results. The employees responded well to the candidate’s leadership, but the candidate asked to no longer be considered for the role after the trial, explaining they had discovered they did not like the responsibility and pressure of leadership.
Candidate 5 – Their team had strong results. The supervisor’s productive output was less than the others, but the productive output of the employees had sky-rocketed, and their knowledge and skills had the most growth of all the employees that were a part of this process.
When considering the candidates’ performances from their prior time as individual performers, the candidates in order of best performer to weakest performer (though all were good), were 4, 2, 5, 3, then 1. The two best individual performers were not good fits for a supervisory role, and one was even detrimental to the employees. The best leader/supervisor was a good performer but not necessarily the best.
The lesson to remember is that being a supervisor or manager requires two skill sets: leadership skills and practical skills. Both of them are important.
Leadership skills will allow a supervisor to inspire and guide their people to work with commitment and dedication, while practical skills will allow a supervisor to ensure the specific work to be done is done right.
To return to the original dialogue at the beginning of this article, this is how the conversation finished:
Manager: “So, what do you want me to do?”
VP: “Let’s run a trial period with your top five candidates. Let’s see who’s ready now and who needs further development first. Whoever we don’t hire, we can put on a development plan to get them ready for the next opportunity.”
Derek Pangelinan owns Derek Rey Consulting LLC. He is a management/leadership coach for small and medium business owners all across Oregon and Southwest Washington. He runs a variety of workshops to help them build their teams and improve communication and commitment in the workplace.