By Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE

When a management position becomes available, it seems obvious to choose the top performer. However, you might need to be cautious. Some people save their best performances for when the boss is around. A one-dimensional view might not be truly reflective of a person’s leadership potential. Anyone who watches reality television will see contestants performing well in the challenges or in front of judges (or the bachelor) but being awful to each other back at the “house.”

These people are called “spotlight rangers.” In the US Army Ranger School, this is a slang term for rangers who don’t give the mission their all unless a high ranking officer evaluates them. In other words, he or she only performs for the “spotlight.” Other times, they’re probably doing the bare minimum or just wasting time. In school, we called them “brown-nosers.”

Ranger School is a leadership school that tests individuals by giving them simulated stress of combat experiences. Sometimes you are the patrol leader and evaluated for your leadership skills; other times, you are part of the team.

Spotlight rangers in the workplace create an obvious problem for an organization. They are likely very skilled at their job, and they know it. They are possibly the highest performers in an organization. In the spotlight, they shine and attract credit for the success of the team. When they aren’t the leader, they can’t be counted on to give their best. What’s even worse, back in the barracks (or in civilian life in the breakroom or out in the field), they can be crass, gossipy, or manipulative. Because a manager can’t be everywhere, these are hard qualities to measure. When it’s time for a promotion, organizations have to turn to other strategies to get the best leaders.

One of the flaws in large organizations is that promotions are often based on skill-related criteria. Who is the best at this job? What is neglected is the answer to the question, “Who inspires confidence in a team and will motivate them to do their best? Whom do they trust? Ranger Schools solved this problem by using peer reviews as part of their evaluation process.  

A large-scale study by the management training group, The Ken Blanchard Companies ®, confirmed that trust is essential. When the team has faith in its leadership employees, they “have higher intentions to remain with their organizations, put forth discretionary effort, endorse the organization as a good place to work, and behave in ways that benefit the organization.”

Next time you’re hiring, give a 360° look at your candidates not just on the performance scale but also through the team’s eyes.

Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE, is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, a PR, event planning, and public relations firm.

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