28 Sep

Don’t Promote Your Best Employees…

by Brad Lutz in Leadership 0 comments

At the very least, stop promoting your best employees into leadership positions without very, very careful consideration.

I speak with so many different employers from different industries, and the story is too often the same.  “We have this great employee, best technical person or best performer we’ve ever had, so….we promoted them to Manager / Supervisor / Leader of People…”

Then the real fun begins.




 The repeated story has several variations, but the ugly scenario often plays out like this:

Once upon a time we had a great employee, so great in fact, that we promoted her to a Supervisor position.  Then, she stopped being a great employee.  She angered everyone and wasn’t able to get the team to do what they needed to do.  Some employees started to quit and we realized that not only was she not a great employee, she wasn’t even a good one.  We thought about moving her back to her old job, but she had angered so many people that we decided to let her go instead.

 The story changed from a great employee to a fired employee within months with many other casualties along the way (including the organization’s reputation and some clients).

 Frequently, as this avoidable story plays out, the Employer is often completely oblivious to the fact that it was largely their fault that their great employee is no longer performing and therefore “needed” to be fired.  Other less ugly scenarios include demotions, resignations and an immature and/or ineffective leadership team with great doers (but no great leaders).


brad-blogIf your fantastic employee doesn’t have great (or at least very good) communication skills, if they don’t get along with people, if they don’t know how to positively provide direction or inspire a team, then promote them to a non-leadership position.  Sure, pay them more money, give them creative license to improve processes, even see if they can train other people, but do not make them a supervisor or a leader of other people.  You are setting them (and yourself) up for failure if you do so!

 Wayne Gretzky was a great hockey player, but unfortunately, he was a lousy coach.  You would never dream of firing Wayne Gretzky the hockey player, but you have no problems firing him as the coach.  If your fired coach could still play good hockey, you’ve screwed up at least 2 positions on your team and negatively impacted others.

 Getting it Right:  Effective Leadership Selection / Leadership Development:

 Select people into leadership positions based on their ability to communicate and lead, not on their technical ability or their overall knowledge of your organization.

 This is much easier said than done.  A strong leader who doesn’t have intimate knowledge of your industry or organization will still almost always be a better leader than someone who knows your organization inside and out but doesn’t have the right skill set to lead a team.  If you find someone who has both qualities – knowledge of your organization and strong leadership / communication ability, you are very fortunate!

 When it comes to leaders, the age-old question is whether great leaders are simply born or if they can be developed.  The truth – a few great leaders are born with a specific skill set that allows them to lead effectively.  Other people have the ability to learn how to become great leaders.  And many people do not have the skills or the ability to learn how to be a great leader.

 This sometimes means hiring (internally or externally) different people that aren’t your top performing individual contributors.  This is a very difficult choice and can create some difficult conversations, but it is still the correct choice.

 Develop your leaders and your potential leaders.  Providing your leaders and your potential leaders with development opportunities will help assess their potential for future success.  In this development process, ensure you have the ability to not only evaluate technical abilities, but if they have the right skill sets to communicate with and lead people.  All the technical knowledge on the planet does not a good leader make.

 The research continues to be clear – engaged workforces are a competitive advantage and meaningfully outperform non-engaged organizations.  The impact of front line leadership is enormous, and the direct leaders in your organization have more influence on employee engagement and turnover (good and bad) than any other factor in your organization.

 It may be difficult to find great roles for your star employees without making them people leaders, but if your stars don’t have the right skills to lead, you are doing the right thing for them and for your organization.

 If you would like to learn more about our take on intentional people leadership, have a look here.

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