Stop Putting Your Top Players On The Bench

By Kevin G. Armstrong

When Michael Jordan was at the pinnacle of his NBA career, who received the most reward and recognition—Jordan or his head coach Phil Jackson? Phil Jackson is one of the winningest coaches in sports history, yet anyone will tell you the answer to this question is “His Airness” Michael Jordan.

When Steve Nash—point guard of one of the most prolific scoring teams in basketball history—was bringing the ball up the court, was he looking at his coach Mike D’Antoni and thinking, “I can’t wait to move ‘up’ to your job as coach?” Of course not. And why would he? Nash was making far more money, garnering all the recognition, and, most importantly, he was loving what he was doing.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in some of North America’s largest industries—whether we are talking sports, music, or major movie and theatre productions—they haven’t forgotten that they are performance-oriented and, as such, must constantly recognize and reward the top ‘players.’ Consider Joe Montana, arguably the greatest player in America’s largest and most popular sport. Do you even know who his coach was? Most people would not remember Bill Walsh, and that pretty much answers the question of who gets the reward and recognition in football.

In business we have it all backwards, and few of us seem to be responding. I address this critical issue throughout my new book, The Miracle Manager. Managers (the coaches), referees (the lawyers), and scorekeepers (the accountants) are at the front of the line for recognition and rewards, even ahead of the star players. Doesn’t it make sense that your top players in each of the organization’s functions receive the appropriate recognition and rewards?

Instead, we’ve decided to make our “top” positions the non-producing functions. The sales person who is directly responsible for executing the exchange of value, the best performing production worker or service provider who insures what is promised is delivered, and the top shipper who ensures on-time delivery all believe that the way to the top is to become a manager.

Let me ask you this: if you had a top performing duck that could swim like nobody else, would you send him to eagle school?

A top sales person knows how to take a prospect from the top of the sales cycle to the close with amazing success. And what do most businesses do? We make her a manager and call it a promotion, when in fact our research shows there is only an 18.3% chance of her succeeding in such a completely different role requiring a very different skill set. A top sales person is a high-performer who is driven, has high energy, is smart, and it’s not unusual that she also possesses high ego. She is a leader in her field.

“Managers,” “coaches,” and “directors” are all synonymous in that they get things done efficiently and effectively through others. Think back to a great manager or coach you had in the past—if you were lucky enough to have experienced one. The number one attribute of the exceptional manager—the “manacoach”—is the ability to remove barriers so that his teammates can perform. He wants people to grow, develop, and be the best they can be. He puts his team’s needs in front of his own. Do you think a top sales person possesses these characteristics?

Because we reward and recognize the coaches, referees, and scorekeepers in North American business, it follows that our top leaders develop the desire to become the coach. So, like sending a duck to eagle school, we “promote” them from a position where they thrived, to a position where they fail. As a result, we have to get rid of them, they leave because their ego won’t allow them to “go backwards,” or they continue in a role where they are dysfunctional with no hope of succeeding as a manacoach.

Stop destroying your leaders by making them managers.


Kevin G. Armstrong is a speaker, business advisor, disruptor, and author of The Miracle Manager: Why True Leaders Rarely Make Great Managers with ForbesBooks. Learn more at kevingarmstrong.com.

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