Developing Your Talent

Not Everyone Wants To Be a Leader: Tips for Valuing the Individual Contributor

By Kristen Leverone on September 17, 2012

While there is a great deal of emphasis placed on future leaders and high potentials, the employee who enjoys his or her job, performs well and doesn’t aspire to a leadership role is also someone you need to engage and retain. Individual contributors deserve – and respond well to – recognition and mentoring. These steadfast and dedicated employees often possess considerable organizational knowledge and are real assets to the company.  They also want to grow their talents and share their expertise without necessarily moving up the corporate ladder.

In her recent Forbes article, “How To Succeed In Business Without Becoming A Manager,” Jacquelyn Smith offers advice for employees who don’t want a management role, yet also don’t want to be considered apathetic or less committed than their corporate-ladder-climbing colleagues. But what advice can we offer managers on how to retain these high-performing “individual contributors” who don’t aspire to management positions?

Here are a few tips for showing long-term, high-producing employees they’re appreciated and respected without focusing on promotions:

  • Propose an opportunity to travel for a training and development conference in their field
  • Solicit their opinions on process improvements or solutions to challenges they deal with everyday
  • Offer development opportunities that add value to the team
  • Inquire whether they would be interested in an off-site assignment
  • Offer the opportunity to participate in a company volunteer project
  • Recognize them publicly for their contributions
  • Say “thank you”

How would organizations survive without employees who prefer executing and implementing management initiatives over the responsibility of leading others? Whether they’re backroom, frontline, low or high profile, don’t overlook your individual contributors – the backbone of an organization.

3 Responses to “Not Everyone Wants To Be a Leader: Tips for Valuing the Individual Contributor”

  1. Beth Miller

    This is a great reminder that leaders need to remember that the single contributors should get the same level of attention as leaders taking into account both performance and potential. If you neglect them you may be at risk of losing great future contributions from individual talent.

  2. Jim Seybert

    The headline says it all. Thank you for recognizing and acknowledging the elephant in every cubicle. These folks have SO much potential and many (most) managers are oblivious to their value. The current mindset that everyone should “be a leader” is ridiculous. The end result of universal leadership is either confusion (“Who should I follow?) or anarchy. If everyone leads, who follows?

    Curious as to your thoughts on the conundrum of pay scales for long-term non-management folks. Perhaps the most common reason for advancement to management roles is the wage ceiling on hourly workers. How do we compensate their loyalty?

    • Lee Hecht Harrison

      Thanks for your comment, Jim. Wage ceilings for hourly workers are a factor in pushing people into management roles. But there are more progressive organizations out there that find ways to develop loyal employees and capitalize on their institutional knowledge and loyalty, move them within the organization and encourage them to take on more challenging roles without necessarily moving into leadership roles. It’s about organizational values, commitment to development — something job seekers should take into consideration when evaluating a potential employer.


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