Harvard Says Being A Super Productive Employee Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be a Good Boss — Here’s Why



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Taylor Tobin1.84k
June 20, 2024 at 3:37AM UTC

It stands to reason that companies would look to their top-performing workers when seeking candidates for advancement opportunities. However, as we’ve discussed in past articles, elevating strong employees into management positions isn’t always the best reward, either for the employee or for the company. 

Harvard Business Review recently published a piece exploring the reasons why highly productive workers sometimes fall below expectations when taking on a management role, a phenomenon known more widely as the "Peter Principle."  The study focuses on two key (and closely intertwined) factors.

1. Productive employees don’t always possess the 6 key skills required for strong leadership.

According to HBR, six skills are essential for an effective team leader:

  • Openness to feedback and a willingness to change when needed.

  • A desire to support the growth and development of others.

  • An open mind to innovation and different methods of achieving goals.

  • Strong communication abilities.

  • The capacity to develop strong relationships with colleagues.

  • A willingness to prioritize the organization and to make decisions that benefit the company as a whole, not just themselves and their own team.

Unfortunately, productivity in a classic sense doesn’t always correlate with these particular skills. HBR states that “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.”

2. Companies don’t focus on building those keen management abilities until it’s too late to make them actionable.

Of course, although high performers don’t always have the necessary traits for excellent leadership, that won’t stop companies from looking to these “stars” when considering promotion candidates. So what can a company do to reinforce the development of these skills?

According to HBR, there’s one simple way to increase the odds of cultivating leadership abilities in your successful employees: start early. Many companies fail to prioritize these skills until the promotion is a done deal; HBR specifies that “developing these skills takes time and effort, and organizations typically want to see immediate positive results,” and when it comes to promoting these abilities early, “there’s no reason to wait; after all, when individual contributors improve these leadership skills, they will become more effective individual contributors. The time and money spent investing in individual contributors’ leadership development will help both those who are promoted and those who are not.”


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