We’ve all been there.

There is a top dog on your team.

They seem to be able to learn and do anything. They crush quota. Help their teammates. Contribute to the culture. They’re … the example AE/CSM/BDR/Marketer for your team and the employee that you always dreamed of having on your team.

When you look for new employees, they’re the mental model.

And they’re ready to be promoted.

You get so excited, because their next step up the ladder is managing people themselves, and you can just picture it … they’ll build a TEAM of people just like them.

That are hardworking.

Get-it-done types.

That take accountability, don’t make excuses and produce results.

The ones that want to achieve, build and be part of the solution.

They’re your future managers.


You “Wayne’s World” fast forward in time 6 months, and…

Your rockstar employee is 6 months into their promotion and … they are floundering.

The signs are there:

  • Their team has potential, but is underperforming
  • Your star performer is stressed and seems both overwhelmed and disengaged
  • The strong culture fit they brought as an individual contributor isn’t showing up … their team is more disparate and maybe even more negative than ever

How did it come to this? Why isn’t your rockstar employee automatically becoming a rockstar manager and turning their reports into high-achieving, rockstar clones?

The answer is hidden in the question, if the dripping irony didn’t give it away.

Why high performers don’t immediately become high-performing managers

When we’re in it, it seems complex. But with a bird’s eye view, it’s quite clear:

The skills required to be a great individual contributor are, at best, not the same as what it takes to be a leader. At worst, they are incompatible. And without training, can lead to burnout, bombing or both.

Why? Well, look at what you typically want and expect to see from high-performing individual contributors (or ICs):

  • Extreme Accountability
  • Can-Do Attitude
  • Empathy for their teammates
  • Ability to just “get it done”
  • Results-oriented … to a fault
  • Independent and autonomous
  • High-expectation-setting, raise-the-bar loving, quota-killing achievers.

People who show these qualities can be great at their jobs. And oftentimes, their tenacity, work ethic and smarts are how they get there.

But you can’t brute force leadership.

You can’t outsmart performance management.

And you can’t outwork proper delegation and leadership.

Many individual contributors struggle with management and leadership because managing other’s outputs, motivations, progress, performance and actions is not the same as managing one’s own. And when it’s not recognized, they try to encourage their people to do more. To care more. To take more accountability. And it often has the inverse effect.

Which leaves you with a burned out new manager that is no longer contributing to your team’s outputs.

What’s a senior leader to do?

How can you help your high performers become high-performing managers?

Well, the best way to battle burnout is to avoid it entirely. And when coaching to mitigate and avoid burnout, there are two primary lessons that your new managers need to hear, absorb, learn and embody before they can navigate their own burnout and start to achieve and grow in a whole new type of role.

Re-orienting new managers on their new role

The first: the traits of a successful manager are completely different than an individual contributor. It’ll feel like starting over.

Yep, that’s right. Your company has core values and high performers have common traits, but at the end of the day … leading a team, providing feedback, managing culture, communicating direction, delegating, providing vision, having tough conversations doesn’t have a corollary to its individual contributor equivalent.

And that will be hard for your high achievers to both recognize and reckon with.

If you haven’t talked through this before .. you should now.

And if you are about to promote a new manager, make sure they understand the journey they are signing up for.

In fact – explicitly outline it, visualize it and make sure they understand that a completely new type of role (which people management is) will require them to unlearn, relearn and feel like the most unprepared kid in class. 

But like many roles, starting out with identifying phases of development like getting quick wins, developing core skills and focusing on comprehensive competencies can help set up a new framing for how this achiever can excel in their new job.

How to define success differently

The second: the definition of success is completely different.

Your team or organization likely has shared expectations and language to describe what high performance looks like.

And if you haven’t yet built out a version of this for managers that’s different than individual contributors, you’re missing an opportunity to reset what success looks like and differentiate the traits and competencies required from managers.

In the meantime, using a model like the accountability ladder helps to set employees up for a better experience overall and ground them in the importance of the intangibles as a leader rather than specific actions or tasks.

Source: Leadership Forces

If your new managers have been working hard to earn a promotion and the next step in their career, they are likely feeling accomplished … but that may not be the only thing they’re feeling.

They could be: 

  • Burnt out on the day-to-day of selling, marketing or running core parts of their former individual contributor role
  • Feeling confident, as they’ve mastered their craft and how to do the job they were formerly in
  • Full of ideas and a vision for what they will be like as a manager, pulling from their past experience and how they want to show up in the workplace
  • Positive, but wary. A new role brings new expectations.
  • A combination of all of the above, plus more.

That last point is the most common reason many high performing individual contributors stumble as they take on a new challenge.

And it’s rooted in how we look at learning and development.

The Dunning-Kruger effect captures the journey of learning a new skill or competency well:

It’s important that you and your leaders remember that … this curve starts over for the high performer as they enter into a new role.

And they – and you – need to recognize and plan that:

  1. Entering with a learner’s mindset is not just recommended … it’s critical to be open and flexible enough to learn these new skills
  2. Only hands-on experience will allow them to put their previously learned skills and context into practice in a new format and role
  3. Becoming a novice at this new role is not just expected, but required in order for them to have the right mindset for development and growth

Having a learner’s mindset is critical to reset as you enter a new role as a manager. Because it is a brand new role.

How you can help set the stage for success

As their leader and as a leader of leaders, you can model the behavior that you’d like to see from them as new managers, set explicit expectations and make clear what the journey will be like.

A few tips to doing so:

  • Start development or coaching sessions. Or start them over. The context and relationship you’ve built with them as an individual contributor is instructive – or maybe, nonexistent if this new manager is moving to a new leader – but different as they enter this new role. Resetting on their goals, dreams, aspirations and motivators as a manager, rather than an individual contributor, resets how you’ll work with them. 
  • Reset on how relationships will change. As a leader of an achieving high performing individual contributor, you may have been more hands-off or started to informally coach and model on what strong leadership looks like. Make clear what your role with them now is, now that they are re-entering a learning period. 
  • Acknowledge the stages of development and help your employees reframe their expectations. Somedays, it’ll feel like they’ve got it covered. Others, they’ll get frustrated that they can’t get a “win” or see improvements. Reinforce the job and expectations, provide context on where they are in their development journey as a manager and ensure that they know that the most important thing they can do is to absorb, learn, practice and nail the fundamentals that they can then build on. Because management is a craft to hone as much as any other skill set in the revenue organization.
  • Encourage community. There is only so much that you as their leader can share, instruct, model or do. If there are other new managers, there is a community of new leaders or a network that your new manager employee can tap into … encourage it, praise it and reinforce its importance. Context matters in a new role and much like a cohort of new BDRs or AEs or marketers starting together helps them build relationships and understand the nuance of how they can approach a role, encouraging the same for your rockstar new managers will do the same.