Imani was really great at customer service. Everyone viewed her as a superstar. Coworkers, customers and management loved working with her. She had a giant fan club in the company. When one of the leaders of the company left to pursue other opportunities, management decided to make Imani a supervisor. She was promoted and overnight had a small army of 16 people reporting to her. Imani was delighted to be so well regarded and to get promoted, but she was nervous because she had no management experience. She mentioned it to her boss one day and her boss said “Oh Imani, don’t you worry, you are going to do a great job.” Within two weeks she felt very overwhelmed and wasn’t sure if the company had made the right choice. Maybe promoting her was a big, stupid mistake. She was a nervous wreck and wasn’t sure if she was going to make it.
The scenario above is fictional, but it’s based on many real scenarios I have observed with my clients. Unfortunately, it’s very common. There are some massive mistakes companies are making about management, which leads to miscommunication, conflict, poor morale, reduced productivity and high turnover. We are failing newly promoted managers in the following ways:
1. Promotion without training.
Far too often, we promote someone because they are technically competent, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to lead. Just because someone was good at selling something doesn’t mean they will be a good sales manager. Just because they were good at IT, doesn’t mean they will be a great IT manager. Star quarterbacks don’t always make great coaches. Any team member who gets promoted to a leadership role should be taught all the critical leadership skills they will need. If we don’t, we are throwing them into the pool and expecting them to know how to swim. That is very unfair to them and to the people that report to them every day.
2. Not developing them all along.
In the case study above, if the company thought Imani was going to be a future leader, they should have already had her in a leadership development program or had her working with a mentor to get her ready for the future. Companies should have a process in place to identify, coach and train people — to groom them for future opportunities and build bench strength of future leadership talent. Senior leadership should work carefully with HR, training and operations to fill the talent pool.
3. Not discussing it.
In every organization, I believe that beyond the performance review there should be a separate meeting for every team member to discuss their career goals with their manager. It is sad, but this discussion almost never happens in organizations. There is not time, effort or commitment made to this process that is so important. This discussion helps organizations identify who is interested in being in a leadership role and who isn’t. The discussion about leadership and a future management role should not be a mystery or cloaked in secrecy. It should be an open, honest and frank discussion about their goals short, mid- and long-term. The manager should then commit to helping them get where they want to go through training, development, experience or stretch assignments.
4. Not making leadership development the responsibility of all leaders.
Many leaders don’t do this because they don’t have time and are extremely busy. They may also be threatened by people who report to them developing and surpassing them. I think it should be the responsibility and expectation of all leaders to develop future leaders of the company. How many companies set this as an expectation? Almost none that I know of or work with around the country. Leadership development is not part of the leaders’ performance reviews or part of leaders’ objectives, but it should be. People in a leadership role should be tasked with developing and fostering talent and building leadership bench strength. The future of the company depends on having great leaders to lead growth, to drive results, sales and productivity.
As Jack Welch once said “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”