“Most new leaders advance in their careers due their proficiency with technical skills, but they don’t necessarily have the leadership abilities needed for success in their higher-level positions,” says Steve Cohen, senior vice president with Right Management. Bingo, Steve!
Time and again, I have witnessed talented and productive employees move into management not only without the necessary training, but also without a real desire to manage others. This phenomenon is particularly acute among employees with technical skills such as design, engineering or science. It also appears in high-producing sales people who can make more selling than they do managing.
Moving into management is a huge leap of faith. First, for many employees, it means giving up what they really love doing. That’s why they’re considered promotable in the first place, because they’re good at their jobs. But too frequently managers-to-be are not asked if they really want to move up, and worse they’re not prepared to manage others.
So before you consider promoting a competent employee ask three questions:
Why does this person want to manage? Technically competent employees typically enjoy their jobs. Many want to continue being designers, engineers and scientists; management to them is administrative, not something worthy of their skill set. Ask the prospective manager if he actually wants to manage and, if so, why? More money and prestige may be incentives but they aren’t enough to sustain a career.
What additional contributions can this person make as a manager?Employees who are contributing at a high level are hard to find. Sometimes organizations forget that promoting the high-level performer into management means she will not be doing her old job. On the other hand, other organizations will prevent a good employee from advancing because she is too productive. For employees who do not want to advance, the answer is to leave them be; for those who want to advance, organizations need to find ways to let them grow and develop. Otherwise they will leave to work for another company.
How will we support this new manager? If a new study by Right Management is any indication, the answer is, “not well.” Just three in 10 new managers receive coaching, even less than the 35% that senior leaders (including CEOs) receive. Coaching is not the only solution; support can come in the form of professional development via executive education courses. In-company mentoring is another solution. Regardless, the newly promoted manager needs some help, sooner than later.
Some employees have the gumption (as well as the self-knowledge) to say no to the promotion. They know that they enjoy pursuing their chosen passion rather than becoming a manager. On the other hand, those who do want to manage eventually discover one of the hidden pleasures of management: leading a team for results. Those who succeed in this endeavor are called leaders!
First posted on HBR.org 8/11/2008