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  • Writer's pictureGlenn Sharp

The Unprepared Manager – A Cautionary Tale of Reward Gone Wrong

Perhaps you have heard it too, and you might even say it yourself. Many companies I’ve interacted with are proud of the fact that they “promote from within”. And this is a great practice, one that rewards employees for their loyalty and experience by offering opportunity to earn more and influence more. But in industries where turnover is high or resources are hard to attract, this practice may be more of a necessity than a healthy growth strategy.

Unfortunately, necessity can cause even the best of company leaders to make unwise decisions. A promotion to management, what can naively be viewed as a “reward” for a good employee, can often be a curse to the new manager, their team, and the company. I’ve often seen this unintended consequence of promoting someone too soon or even promoting someone simply not suited to leadership.

What happens when a good employee is promoted too soon? People and company performance suffer.

1. The manager experiences personal stress. Even the most confident person is still aware of their own limitations. They may try to “fake it until they make it” for a while, but eventually the stress of being under-prepared or truly incapable of meeting the expectations of their role comes out.

2. The manager creates stress for others, especially the team they are responsible for. This is never intended, but inevitably happens. When a manager is unable to meet the expectations of their role, they are incapable of leading others to success. This can manifest in unclear goals for the team, weak or non-existent feedback, or even worse, an environment where the team gets the blame for the manager’s weaknesses in an attempt by the manager to cover for themselves.

3. Good employees may choose to leave. The primary reason most employees leave a company is because of their manager. The cost of losing employees, especially those you don’t want to lose, can be far reaching. They include the financial impact of recruiting for a replacement, the loss of continuity and bonds within a team, the loss of experience and knowledge, and possibly even a negative impact to customer relationships.

4. The company’s success is compromised. The impact of even one weak manager should not be overlooked. The financial, relational, and performance impacts can be far reaching, sometimes beyond the specific team the employee left behind. If the manager herself chooses to leave, the replacement costs and impact to the organization are the same, and the company may have lost a great individual contributor simply because they were promoted beyond their capabilities or weren’t adequately prepared to lead.

How do you avoid putting good employees and your company at risk? A culture of leadership development is the healthiest way to avoid these mistakes.

1. Value leadership in your company, but don’t put leaders on pedestals. A healthy environment respects the importance of leaders within your organization but does not foster a culture that says, “the manager is always right.” This allows the leaders of today and of the future to grow without fear of making mistakes as they learn and develop. It takes away the expectation that a new manager must be perfect on day one in order to fit into the model of leadership where managers are unnecessarily revered.

2. Intentionally invest in personal and leadership development at all levels of your company. If your company culture is one of continuous growth and improvement for all employees, those who aspire to positions of leadership see that they can grow into those roles. They simply have to be willing to take advantage of opportunities to better themselves that are readily available in a learning culture.

3. Keep investing in leaders after they are promoted. A new manager should be immediately supported through an intentional investment in their learning and growth in their new role. This may be formal (through training opportunities, for example) or informal (through a mentor program.)

Determining if your culture is healthy and able to organically grow leaders in your organization is a key part of what we do at Sharp Leadership Development.

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