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Why the Best Individual Contributors Can Fail as Leaders


success as a new leader | Melissa Hague | Leadership Coach | Dorset


Some of the most brilliant individual contributors get promoted into management - only to fail terribly. Why does this happen so often?


Usually, star performers get recognised because they achieve outstanding results. They possess enviable skills and drive. Through sheer determination, they find a way to get things done.


So when it comes time for promotion, these all-stars seem like the natural choice. Their track record inspires confidence they'll replicate their success in a leadership role.

In reality though, the competencies that make them excel individually often backfire as people managers. Success hinges on a very different set of skills.


Here are three reasons why top individual performers frequently flounder as leaders:


They struggle to delegate. Accustomed to relying on their own expertise, new managers are reluctant to entrust work to others. They micromanage instead of directing. Unable to let go of control, they short-circuit their team's development.
They fixate on tasks over results. Superstars are oriented toward flawless execution of their own responsibilities. As managers though, the scope expands to broader outcomes achieved through others. Requirements like strategic thinking, problem-solving and agility become critical.
They lack influence skills. Before, they could get things done through their own determination and hard work. Now, their ability to achieve goals depends on influencing peers and team members without formal authority.

Does this mean star performers should never get promoted? Of course not. Their strengths can serve them well as leaders if applied correctly.


However, making the transition successfully hinges on adopting new mindsets and capabilities. Priority skills to build include:

  1. Trusting others - resisting the urge to micromanage by delegating appropriately.

  2. Thinking long-term - balancing tactical needs with bigger picture objectives.

  3. Developing empathy - understanding what motivates others instead of assuming they'll react as you do.

  4. Communicating persuasively - tailoring your messages to connect with different audiences.

  5. Building relationships - spending time on networking and collaboration to gain buy-in.


With commitment and support, individuals used to working independently can evolve into excellent leaders. They just need help shedding old habits while proactively honing new abilities.


The lure of promoting standout individual contributors into management roles remains strong. However, organisations must provide systems to nurture their development. With the right guidance, these motivated professionals can apply their considerable talents towards leadership success.



Melissa Hague | Leadership Coach & Certifed Dare to Lead Facilitator

About the Author


Melissa is a Leadership Coach and Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator based in Dorset, with a particular interest in supporting people who are stepping up from managing individuals to leading other managers.


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