How To Transform Solo Contributors into Magnetic Bosses

By Linda Henman, Ph.D.

Not everyone evidences the desire or skills to move up the management ladder. A few of these key people will choose to stay in solo contributing roles, but most of your high potentials will need a way to move up the pipeline, through the various turns, to the upper echelons of the organization. In many case, the first step in the process, helping the solo contributor take on direct report responsibility, won’t involve the senior leaders directly. However, as with all important initiatives, it will need your oversight and direction. As the senior leader, you’ll want to address the following to ensure your organization does what it takes to attract and retain the future leaders:

  • Identify the high potentials early. Unless you’re desperate, hire with promotion in mind. When I do pre-employment assessments for clients, I will often determine candidates can do the job for which they are being tested but offer no bench strength for advancement. Usually the hiring company just wants to fill the chair and doesn’t think three to five years down the road. Although necessary in some cases, I don’t advise doing this. With a little more searching, you can often find a better candidate that can do the current job and offer the potential to move forward.
  • Begin to develop solo contributors for management positions as soon as they walk in the door or you identify them from you internal people. Test them out on small project leadership, or give them one direct report. Actually managing something will give you the most reliable data about whether this person can take on more managerial responsibilities.
  • Assign the new-hires or the newly identified solo contributors mentors outside their silos. Peer mentors also offer a great deal of value, especially for on-boarding new people.
  • Develop a routine for offering management training once or twice a year. If you identify candidates early, you can send them through the training months before they assume the responsibilities associated with it. At this suggestion, one business owner asked, “Linda, what if I spend all this money on development and people leave?” I asked, “What if you don’t, and they stay?” You can’t afford not to develop your people for two main reasons: first, they represent the future of your organizations performance and profit. Second, if they don’t get the opportunities in your organization, they will go elsewhere.
  • Make sure the managerial training, whether in-house or external, addressed the core competencies of management:

Obviously, in the case of transitioning your high potential solo contributors to managers, you won’t be the coach or mentor. Those in our chain of command will assume these responsibilities.


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