10 reasons why your best employee may be an epic fail as a manager

“Ashley was our best web developer. I had such high hopes for her. She knows her stuff better than anyone else in the department and delivers results. That's why we promoted her. We thought she could step in without any leadership training because of her natural abilities. Now things have fallen apart. She doesn't seem to know how to manage her team—they’re behind on several projects and always whining about something. Details are overlooked, customers are upset—it’s not good. It looks like we're going to have to let her go."

As a coach and people consultant, I‘ve heard this all too often. In fact, I’m sure I said it when I was a manager who promoted someone.

So why does your best [insert job title here] flop when they’re offered a prime leadership opportunity?

A study by Gallup noted that companies fail to select the right candidate 82% of the time. They also estimate that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across company departments.

Just because someone is talented and the best in their department, it doesn’t mean they'll be the best leader once they're promoted.


Only 1 in 10 people actually have the talent to manage. That’s a lowly 10%.

You need to find the right people to take on these supervisory roles and when you find them, you can increase your company earnings up to 147% per share. For real.

So what’s the secret? Dive in and check out these top 10 reasons why your best employee may fail as a manager.

1. They don't want to manage people.

Morale declines when employees don't feel valued or appreciated for their work.

Your top employee in the department already knows they’re good (that’s why they’re your best employee). Then they start asking for higher pay, or more vacation time or special perks. You decide that they can make a bigger impact if they become a team lead or a manager. You see it as a bigger win for the department and the company.

Sure this looks good on paper; have you stopped to consider that maybe the employee only wanted the raise and not the extra responsibility? Yes, that top performer is excellent at keeping themselves accountable, driving to stretch targets, and providing stellar services to customers or clients. But maybe they don’t want to teach (aka coach) those skills to the people who now have to report to them. It's too much 'extra' work - outside of their comfort (or patience) zone.

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Not everyone is suited to teaching, delegating, or managing workflow. For example, if something is too time-consuming or covered with mistakes, an employee-turned-manager might end up doing the work themselves.( I can say I was guilty of this early on).  And the rest of the individuals on the team never learn the proper skills and become disenchanted.


2. They focus on themselves and not the team

Statistics place new manager failure rates anywhere between 45% and 75%

If you promoted internally, the new leader may find it challenging to manage people who were former peers,  or their friends. 

One reason for such high failure rates is that these new managers don’t necessarily have the skills or knowledge to support and coach others. Maybe they’ve never taught or coached anyone before in their lives. Now that they’re expected to coach, they're ompletely out of their element with no idea where to start.

On the other hand, someone who was at the top of their game knew that their efforts contributed to the company’s success. For example, if they were the best sales rep, consistently hitting their targets and going above and beyond, they knew the company would be successful.

It can often be a stretch for someone like this, with no management training, to have to switch gears and consider how the rest of the team needs to work. They now have to  adjust to communicate to each person on the team and analyze how that person contributes to the organization’s goals.

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A leader needs to understand what makes each team member tick, and to get to know their motivations, strengths, or weaknesses. It takes some work.


3. They are not good communicators as leaders

People will argue about this—saying the top performer is also a great communicator or else they wouldn’t be in such a successful position. But this aspect of communication is different. With no prior experience in leadership development, can that person actually coach and support people?

Coaching is a buzzword you’ll see or hear everywhere nowadays, so let's simplify the idea.

give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’
— Chinese Proverb


It’s definitely not hard wired into every leader to show someone how to do a job, to set clear expectations, follow up and provide feedback, course correct, or celebrate when you’ve caught that fish. It takes daily practice to hone those skills. 

Some top employees would rather tell you how to do something instead of show you how. Sometimes these new managers think they can do the job faster and better as well.

Yet the hope of every manager is to build a self-reliant and empowered team that can effectively function without them. This means managers need to have the foresight and patience to teach their team how to fish—even if that means losing a fish or two. The downside is that many leaders aren’t willing to invest in that sort of time or effort. It's hard to do when you are learning a role yourself. 

Finally, new leaders want to be recognized for their ability to manage people well, while achieving results, so they have a fear of making mistakes. They’ll often micromanage or step in and do the work themselves. Again, they’re not training or allowing the 'fisher' to lose a fish or two, and now the company has a leader who’s viewed as someone who doesn’t trust their team.

Perfectionism is often rooted in our own insecurities.

4. They’re not great at providing feedback on performance

As a leader who needs to coach or train others, you need to provide timely, specific and authentic feedback (either positive or constructive) and do so frequently.

As I like to say, “sprinkle the good and the ‘not so good’ fairy dust equally and often.”  Not all top performers are good as coaches.

I experienced this firsthand when I was the Quality Manager in a large award-winning call center. We had several supervisors on the call monitoring team who listened and scored calls while providing feedback to the agents.

We placed some of our very best agents in the supervisory roles and found out that some of them (while extremely knowledgeable about the processes and products), really weren't very good as coaches. It impacted both employee morale and customer service, which was a big lesson for me. 

A 2016 article from HBR refers to a survey of 195 leaders in 15 countries where 42% of respondents stated they believe a key leadership competency is communicating often and openly. This was coupled with 43% stating the commitment to an employee’s ongoing training was also key.

This adds up to a truly valued commodity when you factor in people who enjoy a collaborative and supportive environment, and a leader who can actually coach.

This doesn't mean going around saying “good job” to an employee every day (as that tends to come across as insincere), but by being specific and genuine instead. People know the difference.

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Ask yourself, why exactly was that a good (or not so great) job? How did it help the department? What was the outcome?

This type of approach leads to improvements, innovation and generates increased corporate results. It also shows the leader paid attention, cares, and wants to develop their people. It can be done quickly, be highly impactful and best of all - it’s FREE!


5. They don’t want to deal with conflict.

One of the key qualities that make a top employee great is their ability to be accountable to themselves. Top key contributors are usually self-directed and know what to do to get the job done. But for those in managerial roles, they see they may have to deal with “people” issues (aka conflict) every day.

Some new managers don’t enjoy the thought of having conversations (often with former peers) on sensitive topics like absenteeism, lateness, cell phone use, or dress code. Then there are even more sensitive and personal topics like work performance, workplace conduct, teamwork, bullying, harassment, etc. 

The new leader may feel so uncomfortable to bring these topics up to the point of losing sleep over it all, or just avoid or ignore these situations altogether, in the hopes of the issue being a one-off. Yet a recent study by PWC indicated 92% of employees said they were fine with getting negative feedback as long as it was delivered appropriately.

6. They are not emotionally intelligent


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This is a vitally important consideration and in my opinion, often not considered as much as it should be. Emotional Intelligence (known as EQ or EI) was first written about in 1995 by Daniel Goleman and is seen as one of the top predictors of success of leaders, even more so than IQ. In fact, there are direct ties between EQ and measurable business results. EQ is composed of 5 areas:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy for others
  5. Social skills

There’s  a strong correlation between empathetic leaders and the performance of a business.  EI has become a key determining factor in many organizations for selecting a leader and ensuring they will be successful.

Studies show that people work for frontline managers who care about them and take an interest in them. In fact, it’s often a bigger consideration than money. 

Also, leaders with high EI are generally able to understand how being humble is a good quality (even if they know they are good, they show it in other ways versus being arrogant). Some good performers didn’t worry about being humble and now as a leader, it’s a transition some can’t make. That doesn't mean being a pushover, it simply means  don't be a jerk.

There are a variety of tools to assess EI, that vary from costly to free, and it would be worth it for any business to have some sort of EI assessment on hand to review a top performer before they promote them.

7. They’re not skilled at planning, organizing, and strategic thinking versus day to day operational stuff



Many top-performing employees develop a system or process for getting their work accomplished. After being promoted to a manager, they may not understand why people aren’t getting things done. 

As a leader for a team, they now have to step back from the front line and move to a higher vantage point—looking at things from the upper floors rather than the ground floor. It means a mindset change and the ability to see the big picture—how your team can contribute to the company goals and what strategies you need to employ so your team can achieve results.

Not all people in leadership can do that type of visioning.


8. They can’t  lead others through change

It’s one thing to be flexible, resilient, and handle change by yourself, it’s another to lead people through it.

The 'just suck it up princess' approach to supporting people through change won't work. A lot of startups have found this out the hard way. Empathy should be somewhere, as well as a willingness to work with each person to adapt to change at their pace—to figure out how to support them. While the 'suck it up ' mindset  might have worked in the past for that topnotch employee (or the CEO of the startup)  as a leader those folks aren’t accountable to just themselves anymore.

Now the company is relying on that new leader to help their team get over the hurdle of change. Again, the former top employee can find that challenging,  downright frustrating and a whole lot of work.

I know .... I was one of those new managers. I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t very tolerant of people who couldn’t adapt when I was new to leading people. ( My deep and sincere apologies to the first teams I managed.)

Hand in hand with leading people through change, recognize change will change you, the leader, as well.


Many top performers think they know it all and are not committed to continuous learning. All successful CEO's are aware of how important is it to be a continuous learner.

Role modeling for your peeps is important, and it also shows the higher-ups you aren’t stagnant but always willing to learn. Many top performers DO think they know it all—and that may have been what made them good at their former roles.

Steve Jobs didn’t let his team sit on their laurels, nor did he.He pushed..a LOT. Apple would not be where it is today without change.


9. They find administrative and reporting “paperwork” a pain in the butt 


manager frustrated

This is a pretty common complaint. People move into a supervisory role and they say they don’t have time to get anything done.

Many now have to keep track of things like attendance, lateness, vacation requests as well as providing some kind of information ( be it verbal or written) to senior management on results. They also have to justify raises, or do a performance review, or explain why someone should be let go. Sit in meetings or on calls A LOT.

The first year in a new role involves a HUGE learning curve. It’s tough on anyone who moves into a new supervisory role as you are not only learning your job, but also supporting your team to do theirs.


10. No one told them they would be in a fishbowl

People who ‘drop into the fishbowl’ of leadership are sometimes uncomfortable knowing that everything they say, what they wear, how they act, and who they have lunch with is watched. But that’s the way it is.


Many employees view any leadership role as having to be more involved in office politics and being conscious about how they act around team members or colleagues. This could mean thinking before they speak, or being aware of how they present and conduct themselves.

They may feel more constrained, but that’s not always the case. Often a prior best performer knows how things work and can challenge processes and bring up new ideas (factors that drive change and innovation). But to learn how to do that effectively with a different peer group can take some time.

Now that they’re expected to be a role model, they have to walk the talk. It’s not always easy, but it’s what makes a credible leader credible. It gives you integrity and integrity has been shown to be a key leadership trait.

Some people who were once top employees feel the need to be perfect. Because they were pretty damn good before they got promoted, so they think they have a reputation to maintain.

But it’s not so much about being perfect as being aware you’re a leader now (like it or not). Admitting when you make a mistake is also part of it. Call it being Authentic and maybe even vulnerable. And...you can’t be a manager and expect employees on your team to “do as you say, not as you do,” which might have worked for your parents ( in fact if you think about it, you know it didn’t work for them either).

How people conduct themselves outside of work also comes into play in today’s workplace. Think of some key cases lately–celebrities, athletes, politicians, high level executives, the list goes on. Your brand as a leader IS part of  who you are, and your employees and boss will come to know that very quickly. It was the best performers’ brand and abilities that got them promoted in the first place.Being aware that you’re in the fishbowl is half the battle.


Now , the next time you need to promote someone, consider some of these reasons for why your best employee may actually fail as a manager.

Have you ever had a top performer not do well as a leader? How did you deal with it?Or were you someone who was a casualty?

email me at kari@theartofbeingaboss.com -  comments also welcomed