Who’s the Brightest Bulb?

This is a question I’ve heard asked far too many times in a boardroom or around the table when trying to select new managers. It comes from the full phrase “He/she may be the brightest bulb in the string (string of lights)”. It runs in the same vein as “Sharpest knife in the drawer”, “best crayon in the box”, and so on.

The idea is that we all have top performers on our teams. When a manager job opens up, we turn to high potentials to fill the role. The definition of high potential may be very formal or very simple. Who’s my best performer? Let’s make them the boss. It sounds genuine and logical, but not so fast.

The basic observations that get us thinking about ‘bright bulbs’ might be slightly valid but are seldom complete. The usual metrics such as quantitative data (volumes and output) plus qualitative values (like accuracy and effectiveness) are only part of the right consideration when picking your next team leader or unit manager. Just because someone is one of your best producers doesn’t mean they will be good managers.

If you look at why we think this way, you likely will realize that the argument does make sense. High producers and good workers “get it”. They are committed to the company and their fellow workers. They play nice with others and get along at work. Why wouldn’t you want a manager doing the same thing, right? I argue why would you?

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Academic Study

In the late 80’s, the Head of the Management School at Texas A&M University’s Mays School of Business started a program called the College of Business Administration (CBA) Fellows. The premise was to evaluate sophomores in the Business College. Academic performance (i.e. production) was only part of the evaluation. To be considered, other attributes were included; extracurricular activities, leadership positions in student and community organizations, and other demonstrated behaviors across the campus. Students were selected/invited to join the program. It was deemed an honor to be considered.

Once inducted into the program, students were given extra training and experience like internships and exposure to business leaders of Fortune 500 companies to build their leadership potential. The intent was to track these students long after graduation to monitor their advancement in the business world. The long-term performance of this group was compared to other business graduates who had not had the benefit of the extra development. It was no surprise that the CBA group outperformed the rest of the business school grads.

Extra development did enhance long-term outcome. The takeaway here is that while good production and indications of high potential may exist, you have no guarantee of successful movement into management without some form of added development.

How Does It Work Where You Are?

What do you do when evaluating talent for promotion into management? Do you let your gut tell you who to promote next or do you have a more objective way to define and measure someone’s potential for success? Here are some ways others make better choices:

Define the expectations of managers – First, you have to have a clear definition of measuring a manager’s success. By listing the elements of success, you can better benchmark the potential within a new candidate.

Look beyond current production – Dig deeper into the bright bulb’s wheelhouse. Do they even want to become a manager? Is that a talent they think they have? Use assessments to measure personalities and dispositions for a fit in management.

Evaluate other attributes – Think about other contributing factors that make good managers in your company. Are there work demands like sales, negotiations, or other technical skills required? Are there social demands like meeting clients, public speaking, or attending trade shows?

If you find yourself asking who’s the brightest bulb, stop and rethink your plans.

Question: How do you decide who should become the next manager on your team?

coaching callOriginally posted on DougThorpe.com

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