Are You Promoting the Right People?

Imagine for a moment that you just got promoted. Your first order of business? Help choose your replacement. To you, there’s really no need to interview anyone. You already know that you’ll be choosing your hotshot lead analyst who has been performing at a high level for some time.

Fast forward 6 months, and things aren’t going well. Your old team is desynched from the rest of the organization and from each other. Their output is inconsistent. It’s starting to impact your whole team. What happened?

The “hotshot” was selected on their individual performance, not their leadership potential. It’s too easy to make the assumption that their current success will continue into the next role. The jump from individual contributor to leader is a significant one and the skills required are different. Once you are no longer the primary executor of the task, your performance is defined by others’ performance.

Yes, it is important to be proficient at your individual function. An accounting manager needs to know accounting. A marketing manager needs to know marketing. The sales manager should probably be good at sales. That individual proficiency alone, however, will not make you successful. Can you coach your junior employees to reach expert proficiency? Can you help the team win each day?

To find long-term success as a leader, you need EQ to go with your IQ.

Many organizations have formal Leadership Development Programs (LDP) where high-potential employees are selected to be groomed for higher leadership. In some cases, these LDPs hire from outside the company, from business schools or other organizations. A great deal of money and effort is invested into the LDP, but executives are left unenthused with the results. Frequently, their selection criteria focuses too heavily on their individual accomplishments, which will quickly become an irrelevant skill after completion of the LDP.

If you find yourself in a position assessing future leaders, pay more attention to their attitude and relations with the rest of the team than their current Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Decide if they’re ready to make the transition from individual contributor to leader. If they can produce brilliant individual work but can’t lead a dog to a bone, maybe they’re due for a raise, not a promotion.

If you’re in a formal leadership role, at some point you were chosen to be in that position. Reflect on what caused you to be picked up for promotion. If you’re not in a formal leadership role, what has your boss encouraged you to do to help you get there? Is your organization choosing the right people, for the right reasons? Are you focusing on potential?