Promote real leaders, not just star performers

Erroin A. Martin

Von Gehr Consulting Group

How long a company will be successful can be measured by its products, pipeline and leadership pool. How deep and diverse your talent pool of leadership candidates is depends upon how they are identified. Performance, while a needed trait in a leader, should never be the sole criteria for promotion. A star performer does not equate to being a leader.

Star performers can be excellent salespeople, trainers, recruiters, or any other position your business has that measures success for a given position through metrics.

Many companies during stages of rapid growth and a need to fill management / leadership positions will use one of the easiest criteria to sift through their ranks: performance. Performance is easy to measure, you either win or you do not. Using performance as a criterion simplifies the ability to rank your candidates, making decisions black and white.

But what is the typical end result?

The first being that you get a few great leaders, some ok, some in need of training, and the others… well a failure that not only ruins the career of the leader but takes a whole team down in flames. This comes from the fact that performance does not always translate from old positions into new ones. Past performance alone is an imperfect means for building your leadership pool.

Yet performance should be part of a constellation of criteria to be used in building your pipeline of emerging leaders. Other criteria to be weighed up are emotional intelligence, improvisational thinking, situational awareness, the ability to delegate, alliance building, and talent planning, amongst others.


“Google understands that the need to bring innovative products online requires leaders to take risks and adapt quickly without having all the information.”

Let’s take the ability of improvisational thinking – or the ability to quickly think, adapt, and make decisions with limited information. With each climb up the corporate ladder comes the need to make decisions without having all the information. With the greater amount of responsibility obtained comes an increase in speed to assess and adapt to changing market conditions. Individuals who are star performers are typically excellent at executing tactics and plans where all the information that is available is given. These star performers are renowned for having a pattern, rhythm, or predictable schedule to their work. Once that is disrupted and they are put under pressure to make decisions with little information, these star performers crack, fail to execute, or worse: micromanage.

Google, Inc. (a little company in California that no one has heard of) measures improvisational thinking of employees from their first interviews into the company and throughout their movement within. Google understands that the need to bring innovative products online requires leaders to take risks and adapt quickly without having all the information. They would rather weed out employees who cannot handle that kind of responsibility than promote them. Even if the employees are stellar performers.

The question is always raised, “Well won’t those star performers leave?” The answer is most likely yes. Google would rather have one employee leave than have an entire team razed to the ground because someone should not have been promoted. The success of their approach is very apparent. What does your company prefer?


The single criterion of performance tends to hold companies back from making explosive growth.”

Emotional intelligence, situational awareness, alliance building, talent planning, and delegation of responsibility have something in common: a person either has it, or they do not. These traits are learned long before the employee reaches your company door. In fact if you were to review their interview package before they were hired you would notice them in their answers. When an individual possesses these traits, they can be trained and refined to mold them into the best leaders possible.

How do you go about finding your new pool of leaders if performance is not the only criteria? The answer to this question is in the five items below:

1.) You must first build within your company a culture that recognizes that performance is only one factor in finding emerging leaders.

2.) You need to break down the silo walls and have multiple sets of eyes – other leaders, the candidates’ peers, and members of other departments – on your potential candidates.

3.) You have to build a hiring process that identifies the traits your business requires for leadership.

4.) Leadership positions should not be the only path of promotion. Your star performers excel at the positions they are in. Your company should do all that is possible to keep them there – whether this is giving them a title, increased exposure to unique projects, or increased financial reward – and it needs to be enough to be enticing to them.

5.) You must be willing to let one star performer go in order to save the dollars involved when a team – through poor leadership – implodes.

By following these five steps your business will be able to build a substantial pool of emerging leaders to draw from. They will be able to build strong successful teams that move your company forward.

When a company is in rapid expansion and does not have a pool of talented leadership candidates, it is understandable why they turn to the single criteria of performance. It makes the decision to promote or deny promotion very easy. The easy path tends to result in more heartache than it does success. The single criterion of performance tends to hold companies back from making explosive growth.

About the author:

Erroin A. Martin is a Business Advocate with the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC, a business coaching and consultancy provider for business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs. He has fifteen years experience working within the pharmaceutical, manufacturing, natural resources, medical devices, software, technology, business services, and agriculture industries in various levels of leadership across six continents. He has led diverse teams in sales, marketing, planning, and in the Army. He currently coaches business leaders and physicians in the tools needed to plan for their success. Learn more about the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC at or call +1 203 433 8079. You can follow him on Twitter at @Erroin.

How does your company build its pool of emerging leaders?