One of the paradoxes of sports is that star athletes seldom make great coaches. Can you think of a Hall of Fame athlete in any sport who would go on to be a Hall of Fame coach? Outside of a few examples, we remember superstars on the field or superstars on the sideline, but seldom the same person in both roles.
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has data and research that suggests that this paradox of leadership is not limited to athletics. Using data from 100 C Suite Executives and over 900 of their direct reports, CCL researcher Pete Hammett concludes that superstar executives (as defined as those in the C Suite- CEO, COO, CFO, etc.) may have the best talent for their role but are seldom good at developing others. In other words, they know how to be a great player but are a poor coach. Through analysis and interviews, CCL offers interesting insights into how the star talent/lousy coach paradox may play out in business. My interpretation of the findings from their research follows.
1. The C- Suite executives had an inflated self measure of their coaching abilities. On virtually every measure of coaching behavior, the executives rated their skills better, at times significantly so, than direct reports. The executives thought they were better at coaching than did those being coached. These C Suite incumbents might have been stars, but could not effectively encourage the potential of others.
2. The C Suite executives demonstrated a low need for interaction with associates. Executives were selective about interactions with others, preferring a small group of familiar contacts or working independently to working with a larger or more diverse set of colleagues. As a result, the executives really didn’t know or understand the talent on their team.
3. The C suite executives had higher confidence in their organization’s ability to identify, develop and nurture talent than the talent did. This may be a case of “the system worked for me” attitudes or lack of feedback about organizational processes. Significant confidence gaps existed between the effectiveness of managerial skill to develop people and the ability to advance people based upon merit. It appeared that the talent at the top of the pipeline was more satisfied than those in it.
Creating Talent Dynasties
The 100 C Suite incumbents studied do not represent all C suite superstars. I happily count several exceptions that I have had the good fortune to “play with” and “play for.” They had superior talent. They made everyone around them better. When they left, they left the organization better. We need more of them.
As Hammett describes, C suite executives must be more like “player coaches” than exclusively a coach or the superstar player. A player/coach has to care about developing his or her own talent and developing the talent around them. They must lead by example. They must lead with challenge and with empathy. They must spend enough time on the field to know how execution is different than the view from the skybox.
Careers are short. Legacies are long. We do not have to accept a false choice of being remembered for having great talent or developing great talent. Do both, and be remembered for a talent dynasty.
Reference: Hammett, Pete (2008). The paradox of gifted leadership: Developing the generation of leaders. Industrial and Commercial Training, vol. 40, no 1. Pp. 3-9.