I have worked with, coached, and witnessed my fair share of leaders over the years. And with that, one thing has always remained obvious to me. Those that lead because they genuinely believe in the power of a collective group of people to achieve success, and have a true and genuine desire to grow and develop others, are almost always (at least in the longer term) the leaders whose teams, and businesses see the greatest success.

Yet, here is what I also identify as so often missing in Organisations when we talk about developing our next generation of leaders.

We don’t take the time to explain to our high-potential individual contributors what is really involved in becoming a leader. We don’t make them aware of the trade-offs and the sacrifices you actually do have to make. The difficult conversations that they will have to have. The fact that their individual contribution will no longer be their sole focus – it will shift into a collective contribution, and one for which they will no longer solely get recognition for.

What ends up being the outcome of this lack of information for our gifted individual contributors?

They often end up being thrust into a leadership position all in the name of growth and a promotion, yet they’ve never actually considered whether they want to leave the cocoon of being a technical expert and move into a space where their major focus is now to lead, motivate and inspire a group of people.

Once the glitter of a new title, a salary increase, and maybe a corner office, or car space (is that even a thing any more –  gosh, I hope not?!) wears off, what they are left with is the very real reality that they may now be in a job that they actually do not want, and have given up the very thing they so enjoyed because they thought that’s what they had to do to succeed in the Company.

Sadly, what can then happen, is these incredibly talented, hardworking individual contributors end up departing an organisation on not-so-great terms, because they were then marked as a ‘bad leader’, or didn’t deliver in their latest role to the level expected of them. This often leads to demotivation, frustration because they are no longer working in a role they find fulfilling and, in some cases, leads to a once high-performer now being a low performer.

The sad part of this situation is that it is a lose-lose. Organisations lose out on retaining incredibly talented individual contributors, and employees leave organisations having lost confidence in themselves and their own abilities, all because of a bad job-fit.

What process does your Organisation use to decide on its future leaders? What real and honest conversations are you having with highly skilled individual contributors who may be on the cusp of that next step? Are you being clear about what the transition from individual contributor to leader really involves? What skills sets and complexities they must be prepared to learn and navigate? That their workload will shift largely from one within their complete control, to one that is now reliant upon coaching, mentoring and guiding others to achieve results.

It is important that we talk about the all the amazing and fulfilling aspects of leading a team, but also the vulnerable, challenging and difficult parts too.

Leading a team of people, be it 1 or 100, is a tough gig. It takes patience, encouragement, trust and a genuine belief that other’s success is your success. You can still be an incredibly successful person and go far in your chosen career path, without managing a team of people.

If you are a currently an individual contributor, in an Organisation and wondering whether leadership is for you, there are a couple of things that I would encourage you to truly reflect on BEFORE you find yourself leading a team, or putting your hand up to say you want to.


  1. A strong active listener, who enjoys taking the time and listening to people to help them problem-solve? When people want to talk to you, you’re pleased to stop and chat and you don’t see it as an annoyance or an inconvenience to your day.
  2. Sincerely keen to learn more about yourself and other people, and you’re willing to look in the mirror as you learn and make the necessary changes? Leadership is not easy and it’s not always fun. To be a leader, you have to be humble enough to learn from your employees. A leader who thinks they have all the answers will never gain the respect of their teams – and without that, you really can’t go very far.
  3. Excited by the idea of developing a team and helping people realise and execute on their full potential within the Organisation? Do you get sincere satisfaction out of encouraging and supporting people to step up? Note: If you see developing others as just ‘fluff’ that HR expect you to do, I’d probably stop right now, do not pass GO, do not collect $200 dollars.
  4. Skilled with well-developed time management and organisational skills and you are able to manage your own workload very well? It is not your teams fault that you have work to do too – you’ll need to find a way to manage this and ensure you’re available for them when they need.
  5. Patient and don’t get frustrated by questions that you might know the answer to – just because you know the answer, doesn’t mean everyone does.
  6. Prepared for what can at times be a lonely gig – leadership can be lonely, particularly if you have gone from colleague, peer, to manager. You need to find a balance now between being the friend and the decision maker, and that can be tough.
  7. Prepared to have to make some pretty tough decisions or execute on some pretty tough decisions that you may not always agree with, yet you need to be prepared to own?
  8. Open to the idea of ambiguity and navigating the unknown? Leadership often means working through unchartered territory and trying new things for the first time – particularly in a Covid world where goal posts are constantly shifting, and priorities are changing. Are you able to remain resilient and constructive during times of uncertainty?

If you said yes to all of these, you are likely someone who will thrive when given the opportunity to lead a team, as well as really embrace the additional training, coaching and ongoing support from your Organisation to help you succeed.

If reading this has made you reflect on your own Organisation’s process for educating your emerging talent on what is really involved in being a leader, then let’s talk!

I work with Organisations to develop honest, practical and hands-on opportunities for employees to come together and reflect on their own self-leadership, and then take positive action to work out the best pathway for themselves and the Organisation.