Why A Bad Employee Can Make A Good Manager

They missed deadlines, failed projects, and seem steps away from not working for you anymore. They’re a “bad employee” – but what if they have all of the qualities of a very good manager? Without opening your mind, you may be missing a prime opportunity to uncover hidden talent.

Past Performance Does Not Predict Future Performance

This universal law says something that failed before could succeed in a new space. It also tells us that knowing how someone operated in one role does not tell us how they could operate in a different one.

When you are updating your succession plan, do you look solely at employees who perform adequately or over-perform at their job or do you keep the stragglers – the ones who operate a little differently, who may not consistently perform at the highest level – in mind?

What if your “bad” employees are actually a gold mine of untapped managerial potential?

If you have an employee who consistently under-delivers on one-off tasks or individual projects, yet still holds the spark of passion for your company, you might not be looking at a bad employee. You might be looking at a big picture thinker who is better at managing people and overseeing projects than individually contributing.

Let’s look at a few new perspectives as to why someone may not be a great employee or individual contributor, and how that could make them a good manager.

Purpose As A Motivator

Accountability and responsibility often depend on being plugged in to a purpose. Many employees need to be needed to do their best work. They want to help others. They want to wake up in the morning knowing that what they do that day will make a positive change, big or small, on the people around them or their environment.

Being a leader is an opportunity to serve others, which can inspire productivity in an employee who may have slacked off from lack of purpose as an individual contributor. If someone finds meaning in helping others and they are relegated to individual work without connection to others, they will shrivel, like a flower in a dark corner. Their sunlight is other people, and with it, they will grow fantastically, benefiting your company and supporting their life’s purpose.

Learned to Lead Themselves

A critical element of managing is coaching, including regular communication around development and having coaching conversations, plus knowing how and when to help your people tap into their own potential and work their best.

Many employees who are seen as low-performers from the outside may have been led by managers unwilling or unable to coach them. Maybe they had to navigate their job responsibilities on their own. When you look at an employee’s progress from the perspective that they did it all without any guidance or regular coaching conversations, their progress may appear more impressive.

Furthermore, someone who was not coached regularly may now view coaching as a priority. If you were not given something by a leader you followed, you may be inspired to give more of it as a leader.

Bad Experiences Create Empathy and Drive Change

Social Exchange Theory tells us that people see experiences through a cost-benefit lens. We participate when we believe it will be worth the cost. If your managers are able to explain why getting involved in a project will be worth the amount of time and effort it will require, your employees will be more likely to participate.

Someone who felt disconnected from their work before as an employee, but now feels purposeful in their position as a manager, will be able to see how and why other employees use this lens. They will be able to connect with an employee who asks “What’s the point?” and will be able to answer them honestly. Furthermore, a previously considered “bad” employee probably asked the same questions wondering the purpose of a project or organizational change.

Struggling individual contributors may actually be change agents. They see the cracks in a system and what they needed to succeed. As managers, these employees can set changes into motion for the good of the company and your people.

Failure Creates Deep Understanding For Future Success

The vast majority of employee learning and development – up to 70%! – happens on the job, not through formal training programs.

Any employee who consistently failed as an individual contributor will have a bank of knowledge to use as a manager. They will intimately understand what does and does not work in certain project work and team roles because they did it wrong themselves. They will be more willing to hear creative ideas from employees they manage because they understand the possibility that the first answer may not be the only one.

When you have an employee on the chopping block for lack of delivery or who does not seem to succeed in their current role, consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, this under-performer could be in the wrong role, and could in fact, be exactly what you need in a manager.

Learn more about how your team operates and how to leverage each person’s skills in your team with a Free Leadership Assessment!