Emergence versus Effectiveness


There is an old adage that cream always rises to the top. In talent management, that means people who are fit to lead an organization will rise to the corner office on their own. Although many organizations operate this way, the truth is that the best leaders rarely end up in the corner office, which is probably why half of new leaders fail.

Failed leaders can cause big problems. Leaders should drive employee engagement, yet only 30% of employees are engaged, costing the U.S. economy $550 billion a year in productivity loss. Moreover, a large global survey of employee attitudes toward management suggests that a whopping 82% of people don’t trust their boss, and over 50% of employees quit their job because of their managers.

Maybe it’s because most organizations have trouble discerning between people who are natural leaders and people who just look like natural leaders. Most organizations have trouble telling key differences between leader emergence and leader effectiveness — differences between people who emerge as high-potential candidates in organizations as a function of political skill, interpersonal savvy, and effective self-promotion skills, versus those who are effective leaders capable of building high-performing organizations, cultivating talent, and leading engaged, productive teams.

Performance reviews and supervisor nominations tend to be good at identifying the people in an organization who “look” like leaders. Emergent leaders seem smart, confident, and charismatic. They’re interpersonally savvy — talented at shaking the right hands and forming the relationships and alliances they need to advance their careers — and excellent self-promoters.

These characteristics are critical to help individuals climb the corporate ladder, and people without them are unlikely to ever play the game enough to get ahead. However, these characteristics aren’t enough to succeed at the top, which is why performance appraisals and supervisor nominations don’t work and why 46% of leaders fail to meet business objectives in a new role.

Only promoting emerging leaders means you’re missing the individuals in your organization who actually have the potential to succeed as a leader — to build and maintain a team that can outperform the competition.

Unfortunately, individuals who are great at building a team, driving business results, and managing their employees aren’t always great at managing up, which is why they often go unnoticed. Researchers spent a year studying 437 managers through observations, ratings, and assessments. They found that successful managers (in terms of pay increases and promotions) spend most of their time managing up by networking and politicking, whereas effective managers (managers with loyal, engaged teams and strong results) spend most of their time guiding subordinates and driving team performance.

Critically, these two groups only overlapped about 10% of the time, which means your organization could be leaving potentially great leaders languishing in lower management positions.

Want to know more about finding the effective high-potential employees hidden in your ranks? Check out our complimentary ebook, “The Politics of Potential”.