Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

Being Great At Your Job Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be A Good Leader

Most people want a bigger job title because they want to be paid more. However, many promotions come with the task of managing teams, and managing people is hard work. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be a manager to get paid more. 

At times, the path toward success can seem somewhat linear. You get a college education and specialize in a particular field. After college, you might continue onto your Master’s degree or your Doctorate, if required. Then, you get an internship or entry-level role in the field of your choosing. You spend time developing and learning skills, honing your craft, and working your way up. This often takes years. And after a decade or two of working to further specialize in your field and become an expert at what you do, you are suddenly removed from that role and put in charge of others who do what it is you set out to accomplish.

This is the current hierarchy of our modern workforce. Once you become an expert, you (typically) move away from using your technical expertise, which you spent years working on, and transition to helping other people learn and do those same skills. For some people, this is an excellent career path that they find highly rewarding. They enjoy managing teams, interacting with and managing others, and working more closely with the interpersonal dynamics of a team. 

But for others, this is not the case. Some people enjoy what they do, but they might like to be better rewarded for the expertise they’ve created. But unfortunately, moving into management is often the only clear path to upward mobility.

Let’s be clear—being great at your job doesn’t mean you are ready to manage a team and manage them well. In a previous blog, we discussed the difference between IQ and EQ, and why it matters. 

EQ and Leadership 

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a very important part of leadership. While some of these traits can be learned, others have a natural ability to relate with and understand other people. Being able to see, perceive, and understand emotions is a very important part of managing teams. The number of interpersonal dynamics, and sometimes conflicts, that come up in the workplace must be dealt with by someone who can demonstrate both leadership and empathy. 

Just because you are technically competent does not mean you are wired the right way to be a good manager. Success in an entry or mid-level role requires technical acumen, and EQ is not usually as important. When you become a manager, other factors come into play—most notably, personality. People are more likely to be successful because they have a good personality and high EQ. 

Why Technical Proficiency Doesn’t Necessarily Warrant a Managerial Promotion

The current hierarchical structures within companies take people who are good at a certain skill set and have them lead other people who perform that same skill. Suddenly, they are no longer performing the basic tasks of the job that led to the promotion. We need to recognize that a great manager has a totally different set of skills than those core technical functions. Organizations rarely take the time to train people to become good managers and use their interpersonal skills in lieu of technical skills. Some people simply don’t have the right personality type or skill set to lead a company or a team of people, and this does not mean they do not deserve a promotion. They simply need to find the right fit within the company and be able to focus on what they do best.

The problem here is that certain personality types simply do not lend well to management or people-centric roles. For example, an excellent software developer can spend ten years honing their skills and learning dozens of programming languages. One day, they are promoted to the role of a department manager, where they will no longer be technically working as a software developer, but will manage a team of developers. This can be a difficult transition, especially if the person promoted lacks the basic managerial skills or personality to perform this new role. Suddenly, the promotion feels like a burden, and perhaps they even leave the company to take a job somewhere that will let them do what they are trained to do—program software. 

Making Sure the Right People Are In the Right Roles

So how do those people fit into your company at the Senior level? Should people unfit for managerial roles be forced into these positions? Quite the contrary. Companies should find high-level placements for those who excel at their technical skills but might lack the personality needed to manage. Perhaps they can help HR managers vet job applications, or help with training and onboarding, but not be involved directly with the day-to-day managerial responsibilities. Think about people like Steve Jobs. Jobs was renowned for innovation in technology, but he wasn’t known for being a good manager. Still, he was a visionary and a necessary part of steering Apple into an incredibly successful future. So, the company promoted Tim Cook to CEO to allow Jobs to do what he did best—create and innovate. Since Cook took over the company shortly before Jobs’ death, Apple’s market cap went from $348B to over $2T, and Apple’s share price has grown tenfold. 

The lesson we can learn from this? We have to stop assuming people will feel the most fulfilled while managing teams. Some people simply aren’t suited for this task. If you find the roles that best suit each individual, and work within your company structure, you will reap the benefits long-term. Let people do the roles they are truly good at instead of forcing them to become people managers. Create advancement opportunities for these people, and watch them thrive in roles uniquely suited to them and to your company’s needs.