Why great recruiters make dud managers

It’s one of the biggest mistakes I have made, and many others are making it right now.

Promoting your top recruiter into a manager role.

Of course, a great recruiter can become a great manager. It happens. But it’s not a given. In fact it’s actually unlikely. For one very simple, but compelling reason.

They are totally different jobs, which require a very different set of skills, competencies and mindset.

The best billers are often ‘lone wolves’. They thrive on the hunt, and on the ‘kill’, and they revel in the spotlight. They are inherently ‘selfish’ (not always in a bad way) and they get their jollies from instant gratification, ‘deals done’, being top of the leader board, and the fat bonus, which comes hard on the results being achieved.

The point is that the motivation of a top biller is always personal success. On the other hand, great managers of recruiters get their kicks through the success of others. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying managers are pure altruists, who exist for the benefit of others. No, they can, and will, have their own interests at heart, but they see the route to fulfillment through growing the skills and success of people around them.

And they enjoy the coaching, nurturing, developing and motivating that requires. In fact the very best leaders rejoice in the success of others.

Actually, I would argue that a big biller and a great recruitment leader are different species, cut from different DNA. You may not see it early in their careers, but it emerges, and you can foster and encourage it. Indeed you must.

It is true that to manage recruiters you need to know the job, and have track record of credibility to lead. But it’s not necessary to have been a world-beater. Like me for example. I was a good recruiter, sure. Better than most, I guess. But I was no superstar. However, for all my (many) faults as a manager, I was better at helping others thrive than I was at doing it myself! And I enjoyed it more too.

But often I see the top biller lobby for the manager job, be given it, and all hell break loose

It’s often a ’double disaster’. The promoted big biller hates the new role, and sees their personal billings drop as they spend time with team members. The team resents the poor leadership, performance falls and people leave. I have even seen entire teams disintegrate.

So this means recruiters must think really hard about what ‘floats their boat’. Management seems cool with a title and bigger salary, but the reality is it’s hard, requires skills you probably do not have, and often, there is more money in being the highest biller anyway!

So work out what you love, and chase that, not a title.

Equally, senior management needs to manage the aspirations of the consulting team from the early days. Don’t tempt big billers with promises of management roles if you suspect they can’t perform them. Careers can be had without hierarchical promotion, and we must lead ambitious recruiters without leadership potential up a different career path.

The captain of a team is seldom the best player. The super tennis coach was only a moderate player. The revered mega-successful manager of the Premiership team played Second Division football. The inspirational school Principal was only an average teacher. The coach of the Wallabies never pulled on an international rugby jersey.

Think hard about who you groom for leadership. Your business depends on it.


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