We find a job. We work hard. We receive a promotion. But despite our career, there is one truth almost all leaders keep quiet about. They find it too awkward to talk about. Even when it shouldn’t matter, most leaders never address the subject. They think they’ll lose face.
What is this best kept secret?
It’s this: we first became manager because we were getting results, not because we were deemed good at leading others. We have technical knowledge and know how to go about getting the work done. But we never experienced or learned what it means to lead, inspire or motivate others.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of!
It happens to the best. Take David Novak for instance. He’s the former CEO of Yum Brands. Yum Brands is a fast food company that employs around 90000 employees in 135 countries. David is a humble man who never saw himself as a leader. And he’s not an exception, since 87% of managers wish they had received more training when they first took on the role. For more insights on the modern management deficit, please read Good Manager, Bad Manager.
It’s not new either
It was already put forward by Dr. Laurence Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle.
In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
Even if Peter meant the book to be a satire, it was recently proved to be accurate. Early 2018, three professors from MIT and Yale wrote the paper Promotions and the Peter Principle. If companies only tried to promote the best potential managers, they should put less emphasis on current performance.
Dr. Benson – one of the authors – was surprised. “I expected that the best salespeople would become merely-good managers. After all, some skills translate to management and others don’t,” he said. “To see that the best salespeople were becoming the worst sales managers was surprising.”
Is it even a problem?
Actually, I don’t think so. Granted, many managers are promoted out of their comfort zone or even competency at that moment. But with help, most people can become good leaders. I firmly believe leaders are bred, not born. And David Novak apparently believes this as well. After all, he switched careers and founded oGoLead to build better leaders. Be sure to check out his views on the power of recognition as well. It’s a good read.
What can we do?
Assuming the Peter Principle is a reality in at least some cases, those bad managers do have a very negative impact on business. Because bad leaders tend to inflict talent casualties. So what can we do about it?
1. Being a top performer needs to carry more prestige.
Managers get more attention from the top team, enjoy greater prestige and have more opportunities for personal growth or career advancement. One way of addressing this is the double or parallel career path where technical and management ladders are treated more equally.
2. Decouple promotions to management from current performance.
Evaluate potential managers on leadership skills. Look at soft skills. Allow people to take on temporary leadership roles, e.g. in a project context. This will help you understand their capabilities. And it also allows the employees themselves time to discover if a new role is right for them.
3. If you’re newly promoted yourself, get humble fast.
Realize yourself the skill set that got you promoted may not be the one you need to excel as a leader. See yourself becoming a great leader as a journey. If it isn’t offered to you, find a start-to-lead training program that helps you inspire, coach and motivate people. Perhaps a good start would be to take the time to talk to each new team member. be sure to ask questions such as “How can I best help you to excel?” and “How can I best show my appreciation for the good work you do?”.