Let’s say your user base is growing, and your Support team is, too. You’re the head of the team, but need to redistribute some of the leadership responsibility. You decide to promote one of your team members into a management role. Who do you immediately start considering?

Probably one of your superstar agents. You know the type: a smart, detail-oriented queue crusher who feels as comfortable chatting with your customers as she does with a product manager about a confusing onboarding flow, or an engineer about fixing a broken line of code.

But is this person actually the right fit for a management role? A recent article from Harvard Business Review, titled “Why the Most Productive People Don’t Always Make the Best Managers”, suggests that you should think again. The author’s basic premise is that your most productive individual contributors (ICs) don’t necessarily make your best managers. From the article:

“Nearly one-quarter (23%) of the leaders who are in the top quartile on productivity are below the top quartile on these six leadership-oriented skills. So, the odds are that one out of four times a person is promoted to a leadership position because of their outstanding productivity, they will end up being a less effective leader than expected.”

My take? The insights in this article are pretty spot-on. While super productive ICs can make good managers, my experience is that this is not necessarily so. When I’m evaluating someone’s aptitude for a management role, I don’t think about productivity first. I think about most of the attributes the article discusses, like ability to give and receive feedback, effectiveness at unblocking obstacles, interpersonal skills, and so on.

In other words, good managers get stuff done by empowering others to do their best work, not by doing all the work themselves. If someone you’re considering for a management role doesn’t show the capacity to empower, they might not be a good fit for leadership. And to be clear, that’s not bad – if your company is doing it right, ICs should have a path to growing and developing in their careers that doesn’t require them to cross over to leadership to earn a promotion. But that’s a conversation for another post :)

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the #leadership channel in the Support Driven Slack. If you’re not in the community and would like to join in the conversations, please join us!

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