In perhaps the best example I can think of to support this point, Emmalynne, all you have to do is look at how sales teams work. The guy or gal with the best sales record gets promoted.
After decades of sales training, I have yet to see the person who is a superb individual contributor overnight become a great manager. If anything it’s how a good team implodes, it downgrades the quality of your top performer. By contrast, some of the better managers are likely less capable salespeople.
This is true for architects, engineers, etc. We have a system — including in the military and in unions-which unnecessarily benefits what we call time in grade, time in service.
I’m reminded of the number of times I heard someone say that he’s been doing X for thirty years. Yes. The wrong way. Just because you have thirty years of doing X doesn’t mean squat. That’s a classic case of quantity vs. quality.
Good leadership skills are a whole other animal. Someone who is himself or herself a damned good salesperson can’t always translate into damned good coaching skills. Being ego-driven, that usually means that if their people struggle, they swoop in to save the day, which preserves the team’s record and the manager’s ego, but nobody grows.
Yet, we promote top performers over and again without asking the fundamental question as to whether the candidate possesses the requisite skills to the next-level job. So many careers and teams are ruined in such ways.
On the other hand, older workers who feel entitled strictly on the basis of time on the job can be deeply resentful of younger folks who have the leadership skills but not the hard knowledge.
In both cases, there has to be give and take. As someone who was a second lieutenant (after being enlisted) I fully understood the critical importance of listening and attending to my senior NCOs, who knew what they hell they were doing. That bought me respect, and it also got me trained.
Age doesn’t in and of itself convey knowledge or experience, nor wisdom nor patience. It’s just age. How we perform, how we treat people, how we demonstrate good sense, good will, courage and a host of other qualities are better determinants of leadership.
For a genuinely fun example of how that works, I would ask folks to watch Master and Commander, an Oscar winning film featuring Russell Crowe. A very young man, a child by any other measure, loses an arm in a conflict early on. He’s a lieutenant, but he leads like a man five times his age. In fact, the kid who played this role embodied those very characteristics. I am fascinated by the human dynamics of those who think that they are owed leadership or managerial positions simply because they’ve warmed a seat for so many years, That doesn’t make you a leader.
I’ve met plenty of much younger men and women who garnered my respect right away. Those folks can be taught a variety of hard skills, but the ability to lead is ephemeral as hell. Most of us can sense it when we’re around it. While in some cases in can be taught, in many, it can’t. In fact, if anything, those folks who feel entitled to leadership are all too often the very ones who shouldn’t be in those positions.