I really enjoyed this podcast from Ryan Hawk with Jim Clifton, who is the CEO of Gallup. Clifton talks about the research they’ve done that statistically backs up what is most important to organizations. And his conclusion is that managers of people are extremely important to the success of the organization.

One great point he makes is about differentiating between individual high-achievers and good managers. Clifton says that every organization should differentiate between the people who are just really good and really productive at the job, and the ones who are fit to lead other people. He actually makes the point that he, even though he’s the CEO, isn’t a very good manager. He spends most of his time talking to clients. He has other people who manage the organization. And he points out that any organization should have a pathway to advancement for high-achieving individuals that doesn’t include management or leadership.

So many organizations – including our own teams – end up with the wrong people in leadership positions. And I think Clifton has hit on a great point here – just being a high-achiever as an individual doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader. We do this with our teams all of the time. The best players are generally expected to be the leader, even though talent really isn’t an indicator of leadership ability.

I learned early on in my head coaching career that I had some great players who really weren’t comfortable as leaders, and I was making a mistake by trying to force leadership on them. I learned they just needed to go out and be great players, and I needed to find leadership from my best leaders, not my best players.

I always say this – I can name 90% of the captains out there on any team. They are the best players, the loudest players, and the oldest players on the team. But being old, loud or talented really aren’t the characteristics of great leaders.

Clifton isn’t dismissing the importance of leadership here, and neither am I. But there should essentially be two paths to the top of your organization. The high achievers should be able to get to the top of your team without necessarily having to be captains or leaders. They should be counted on to be great players. And there needs to be a path to leadership – becoming a captain – that is available to the people on your team who are the best at it. And that doesn’t have to involve talent.

Find a definition of leadership that works for your team and fits your personality. But make sure that definition allows your best leaders to step to the front, and sets a tone where they will have a voice regardless of how good they are.

Individual high achievement doesn’t necessarily translate to leadership. So our organizations should not be built that way.

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