Excellent developers becoming underperforming leaders – This is a common problem that we see in all work streams. Most of us might be performing excellent as an individual contributor. Because of the excellent performance in the previous role, people gets promoted to a higher role which is completely new and might not match with their skill set. This is the standard rule for promotion across the industry. Most of them struggles a lot once they reach the higher role. People will start realizing the fact that it is not just the technical skill set that makes them reach higher. Along with this, they will witness another thing during this crisis – People who were underperforming in the technical roles doing a better performance in the management roles. Some people who were excellent performers during their initial phase career did not make much success in the 2nd half of their career. The reason is the same.

When people gets promoted to higher roles, they will have to do less technical and do more managerial. Leadership role is not just limited to solving technical problems. This role has more responsibilities beyond the boundary of an individual. Here people has to take care of themselves and others also. In the initial roles, he only has to complete the assigned tasks and take care of himself. But as he reaches the next level, he will have to start guiding people, managing timelines, define targets etc. For him it will be more to do with items of less interest and less to do with items of more interest.

The disasters will start showing up as failure of projects, problems in the team, lack of energy in the team, delay in project delivery, customer escalations etc.

The Peter Principle

This phenomenon is called The Peter Principle. This is clearly explained in a book written by Laurence J Peter. Every employee in an organization gets promoted to a level until he becomes incompetent. This incompetency can happen at any level. It can be at the Lead level, Manager Level or even at the CTO level.

We can’t change the rules of a company. The only thing that we have to do is to try our best to learn these techniques, strategies, games etc way before we reach the level and be prepared for the changes. We have to learn the art of management. Some people will have inborn skill. Some people has to develop this skillset from the scratch. Mostly people who are more into technical area lacks management skills. Sometimes it can be a big demotivation for them after seeing failures in the newly promoted role and all the success that they had in the past will just become memories.

From the employer’s side what they can do to avoid this problem is to outsource these incompetent areas and keep the people in the organization in the competent area. In this way, the company will focus on the core and niche skills. All the additional support will be outsourced to a vendor who supplies experienced people in that stream rather than promoting the competent people to poor performing stages. I have seen this practice in so many companies where they outsource the requirement of project management. I have seen a business consulting company outsourcing technical work to another company just to keep their employees within their core consulting skillset rather than making them struggle in the technical area.

There is no point in getting demotivated because of all these. Take this as a new opportunity to learn a new skill set. Keep your main skill set as the primary skill and build management as a secondary skill. Technical skillset is required everywhere. As you grow further, the management layer fill face big trouble as the space becomes too crowded with managers. Learn people management, leadership skills and along with that continue developing you in your core skill set areas also. So that you will be always valuable for any organization.

Few lessons

  • You are only as good as your last game. It doesn’t matter how we were good at our last game. It only matters how we are performing in our current game. The past glory won’t shine every day. We have to reinvent everyday to keep us shining for ever.
  • Anticipate and take actions strategically. We have to think out of the box and strategize properly. We have to practice this. We have to always vision about the future and plan things upfront.
  • Build relationships with right people . We have to invest our time and effort enough to build healthy relationships. A Good leader finds the right people and delegates the tasks and ensure the delivery of the end product in its best quality on time. In the other way, we cannot do everything alone. It is always a give and take,. We have to support others and we will also get support from others when we are in a need.
  • Grace under pressure. I have seen several leaders who get scared and explodes during pressure. The result of this is more damage. We have to learn the art of being cool under pressure and handle the situation without making others panic. This will build confidence in others and helps them also to act rather than being frozen in the panicked state.
  • Always find a good mentor at every stages of life. A mentor during our initial days of career might not be able to guide us or help us during the later stages. So we always have to find a good mentor to keep us guiding and motivating. A Good mentor is like a light of our life who corrects our mistakes, gives confidence and guidance.
  • When we are in the leadership role, we have to always stand for the team. So there is no “I” in the team. It must be always “WE”. The leader should appreciate the team and give them motivation. Also protect them during crisis. This is an art. We have to practice and acquire this skillset.
  • There is nothing personal in the corporate life. Everything is professional. So don’t take things too much emotional and deal it professionally. We have to tell black as BLACK and white as WHITE upfront. This way of proper communication avoids so much trouble in our professional life. Sometimes we don’t tell facts openly just because of taking the matter emotionally. But the reality is that these type of communication will create so much damage than the effect of telling the truth directly.
  • Learn to manage yourself first, then apply the same to manage your team. Management skills won’t come overnight. We have to practice it and acquire it. The best thing to start is to prepare a timetable for yourself and ensure you follow that.
  • Build products, but don’t make yourself as a product of your company that is not useful anywhere. Some people work hard for the company without even looking at their career growth. Finally after some years, they will neither have place in their company nor in other company as their profile is not useful at all. Always keep an eye on your profile with the current market requirements.