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Why Doesn't a Production Line All-Star Always Make a Great Supervisor?

January 13, 2015

Production_LineI can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my clients say this: “We really needed a team leader over area X. I promoted Joe, the best production guy we had, six months ago to lead that team and it’s been a terrible mistake.” Let’s think about it. What made Joe so awesome at the production position? He was great at making widgets; over the years he had become very efficient, mastering the few steps needed to do the job – he produced great volume with great speed. Joe keeps his head down – doesn’t interact much with the others, but really gets the job done!

An all-star on the production line may not make the best leader. In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman quotes Paul Robinson who refers to it as the “Michael Jordan Effect,” which I really like. Often, the best player does NOT make the best coach. Those competencies which make him or her really skilled technically may not be the same skills necessary to teach, foster, and support those skills. There are also a myriad of competencies important for managing successfully that are nice, but aren’t critical for success as an individual contributor. For example…

  • A team leader must Manage Resources in a way that Joe never had to. They must efficiently utilize resources in order to ensure that project goals are met on time. They’ll need to assign responsibilities appropriate to the individual’s level of skill, knowledge, and experience. They’ll have to clearly outline expectations and follow up accordingly.

  • A successful team leader will Empower Others. Part of their duties will likely involve assigning responsibilities in a way that makes people responsible for results as well as – to some extent – the methods of achieving those results. A great leader will encourage others to take on new challenges and then they’ll provide appropriate resources to assist with achieving those goals.

  • It’s also likely that the Decision Making Style of a successful team leader is a different style than Joe’s. No doubt he made decisions when making widgets, but they likely weren’t as complex. As part of their job, team leaders regularly need to consider alternative courses of action, assessing the potential risks and opportunities, and recognizing the implications and likely consequences of the different courses of action. Then they’ll need to choose the course of action that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the losses for the organization, in spite of the fact it might not necessarily be popular with the team.

While there’s value in Joe’s knowledge of the job he’s supervising, it’s not sufficient. It’s important that hiring professionals do some rigorous analysis to determine what success in the target position looks like. Then, throughout the selection process (screening tools, assessments, interviews), be sure to evaluate candidates against the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success in the job for which they’re being considered; not because they were the top widget producer.

 manufacturing assessment

Kate Van Bremen, Ph.D. Kate Van Bremen, Ph.D. was a Consultant based out of Charlottesville, VA. She has extensive experience designing, implementing and managing various human resource systems. She has conducted job analyses and created, implemented, validated and managed selection systems.