Why great recruiters make dud managers

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.

What do you think? Have you seen this go wrong? Have your comment below, please.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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26 Responses to Why great recruiters make dud managers

  1. Julie November 6, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    I totally agree Greg
    A billing recruiter is a good recruiter. Managers need to have skills in leading and developing their team

  2. Rowena Arnold November 6, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    Another great article Greg. I agree 100%, but it’s often these top billers who, once they have reached their ceiling, are seeking out a new challenge and the managerial roles seem the next obvious next step. Can you offer any suggetions for when the top biller comes knocking on your door with the ‘where to next’ look in their eye?

  3. Clarke November 6, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Some well made points Greg. There is an underlying story here as well tho and that is should companies expect managers to also be billers. I would argue (as you have pretty much done) they are totally different jobs with competing priorities. I think too many medium sized recruitment companies dont acknowledge this and effectively want two jobs done for the price of one.

    • Julie November 6, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Totally agree – how many companies have made this mistake, ruining the career and credibility of the consultant/manager and impacting the business in a negative way.

  4. Peter Udall November 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Similarly, good Managers don’t necessarily make good business owners/Directors!

  5. Oliver Li November 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    But the problem also lies where be considered management quality, you must be making some serious numbers.

  6. Mark Woolford November 6, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    Another great article Greg, hit the nail on the head. This has always happened and companies just don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.

  7. Cynthia Janssens November 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Great article, I completely agree! That’s why I never understood, like Clark says, why so many companies insist on their managers being both top recruiters as well as managers coaching and leading their team.

  8. David Stone November 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    Very well said, sir, very well said indeed!

  9. Ann Marie Anderson November 6, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    This is a very good example of how the business may see their growth slide on promoting their best recruiter to a manager role. The nature of the beast in this type of recruiter is most definitely as you describe it Greg- a lone wolf and a very successful one! It is a tough step in terms of the wolf’s personal development to move away from successfully working on their own to successfully coaching and developing the team….is it too much of a step? Can the business take that risk?

  10. Roger Waltham November 6, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    This is so very true, Greg.

    It is also often seen in the sales world, where the best salespeople get promoted to a management role, for which they are just not equipped.

    Neither do great engineers always make the best engineering managers.

    I seem to remember something called “Peter’s Principal” which stated something along the lines that people are promoted to the highest level of their incompetence. Wikipedia describes it as: “The Peter Principle is a management theory which suggests that organizations risk filling management roles with people who are incompetent if they promote those who are performing well at their current role, rather than those who have proven abilities at the intended role.”

  11. Matt Hewitson November 6, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Totally agree with you Greg.

  12. Kiran Bhat November 7, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    Greg … is there anyway … that we can get a Super LIKE button for this article …

    With both my arms Up and bowing to you for this article … nice … agree … totally … 🙂

    • Greg Savage November 7, 2014 at 1:53 am #

      Sadly, no, Kiran. But you can send beer, and lots of it, care of my address in Sydney…:)

  13. Lee Scott November 7, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Great article Greg! Hit the nail on the head with this one 🙂

  14. Justin November 7, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    Aren’t Leaders made not born? We all learn our trade over a period of time and if you are a Billing Manager and Leader? Then you are mentoring about the things that made you successful to begin with. Not everyone chooses to be a Manager the same as a Recruiter it may be that raw talent was identified, nurtured and became a Manager based on performance whilst learning the art of being a sound consistent Manager and setting the example for others by technical and behavioural knowledge. I do agree Greg though there are many examples of people that didn’t get the right development and mentorship to gradually move into a Management role. A failing of the organization is where the buck should stop.

    • Greg Savage November 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

      No Justin leaders are not “born”. Nor are they “made”. Some people are born with the ‘ingredients” and under the right circumstances, usually with the right help, ‘leadership’ evolves.

      • Justin November 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

        That was exactly my point!

        • Greg Savage November 7, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

          Well, in that case, you were right! Although you started a bit shaky….“Aren’t Leaders made not born?”

  15. Justin November 7, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Thank you Mr. Savage!

    One case example – Margaret Thatcher, a grocers daughter that worked in her fathers shop for many years that went on to complete a degree in science and by fate found herself in politics. Challenged for the leadership of her party and in unchartered territory based on others encouraging her to bid for that position. She had many coaches helping her as a female achieve PM. She never set out on that course but fate crossed lines with people that came into her life that made her from a grocers daughter into PM. She had her failings but her character was what defined her. She had the “raw ingredients” and was in the right place at the right time with the right people and “developed” skills from others to then drive her character into effective leadership. We agree just in differing language. There is more than one road to the same outcome to effective leadership based on life and work experience.

  16. Kathryn November 13, 2014 at 3:22 am #

    I could not agree with this more! I absolutely love the function of recruiting and consulting with business leaders and all the different nuances every day brings. I have worked my way up to executive recruiting and still love the thrill of the chase and reeling in the whales! Over the last 20 years I have repeatedly been asked “what do you want to do next”? The honest answer is that I don’t want to change what I’m doing, although I will always strive to be better by continual learning and practice such that I add measurable value to the business. I think it is a good answer, although it often seems to fall flat. Corporations develop career progression plans and value the athletes, people who seem to have a lot of horse power to take on many different roles over time. Yesterday I had a business leader tell me he felt lucky that I would be working on his open role (I had to adjust a few things to be able to take on the project). He actually said he felt honored. It’s a big juicy role, one that will be pivotal to his business and to your point… I am internally driven by the idea that it will be through my efforts that he will be successful. I enjoy the internal brand I’ve built and will be sticking with recruiting!

  17. James December 24, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    Greg, you are spot on. I would add that this applies not only to recruiting but to most other professions as well. Good people managers know that the key to success is taking care of the people so the people can take care of the work.

  18. Lisa October 18, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    Great billers have had good support and training as billers…being ambitious, driven on the whole intelligent individuals, give them the same training and they’ll do well as a manager. Problem is lack of support, training and guidance in a management role aswell as remuneration.

  19. Mark Savage November 28, 2015 at 2:12 am #

    Great read Greg, thank you.

    I do recognize a lot of what you have said there and personally identify right now with the struggle of going from top biller to managing a (small) team of fresh recruits
    Wow, what a challenge! It’s extremely difficult portioning off time to teach and develop skills into new recruits whilst still keeping your billings healthy. This is probably the most stressed and stretched I’ve ever been and – to be honest – I have doubted whether I’m cut out for management. I’d like to think I’m getting there slowly and more importantly, the team is getting there.

    My question is whether you think that it is possible for a top biller to be a top manager too… a hybrid species, a ‘recruitment muggle’ and if so… how? (simple question eh!)

    I haven’t read your articles for a while but it’s always good to go through them again!

    • Greg Savage November 28, 2015 at 8:28 am #

      The answer to the question is “yes” sure, if they have the attributes of a leader. And spend 80% of their time on three things 1) selling 2) coaching 3) Performance Management

      If you are keen to learn more, go to my blog, search the category “management Skills” and there are dozens of articles on this there

  20. Vinay Johar June 29, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    Great Article Greg. I am totally agree with this stuff but one more point is that I want to add; For the best talent, best practices in recruiting and the technology behind these practices is must. You can potentially reduce time to hire by up to 50%, reduce cost per hire up to 70%, and recruiter can improve efficiency while finding the talent with simply implementing recruitment software into their processes.

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