There are multiple factors, completely unrelated to ability, that drive decisions to put employees in people management positions, including the desire to: attract and retain top talent; recognize and reward service; or the need for someone to manage a growing team. Often these ancillary reasons result in managers who can’t manage. Successful leadership development begins with leadership selection.
Before an individual is placed in a people management role, they should be:
Ready – People management skills are often trained after a leader is selected. In some cases, that’s too late. Before promoting someone, do an assessment – find out if they have the qualities needed and what will need to be developed. Give them opportunities to demonstrate their people management ability – let them lead project teams to see their leadership style. Their current manager can also assess their curiosity, humility, and commitment. They should be inherently curious about how they can be better, want to find out, and be committed to do whatever is needed to be better.
Fully Aware – Before an individual is selected as a leader (or promoted within management), they should fully understand the importance, impact, and responsibilities of a people management role. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It is a lot of work, and requires candid conversations and coaching that are sometimes difficult. It requires a mindset shift from focusing on their own performance to that of their team.
Eager to Take on Responsibility –A successful leader wants the responsibility and opportunity to develop others – not just the title. This is harder to discern because almost everyone wants to be promoted – it’s a status symbol, a reward for hard work, and more authority. If, however, they are fully aware of what’s expected and that they will be held accountable, some may self-select out.
First time leaders will never be fully ready, but when it comes to people management, promoting and hoping is not a leadership strategy.