Posted on July 6, 2012

The Most Common Mistake

When someone fails in a management or leadership role, the most common reason I’ve heard is, “I made the classic mistake, I made my best worker the manager.” So if this is the “classic” mistake, why is it done repeatedly? And if this is such a common mistake, should we promote our mediocre to poor workers to be the managers and keep the best ones hard at work?

Usually those “best workers” aspire to be managers, so when they are passed over, it’s not going to be very motivational. Not to mention that we want to promote from within so bringing in outside talent is not a good sign either. So, leaders everywhere are left with quite a conundrum. How do we prevent our “best worker” from becoming our “worst manager” while still keeping a motivated workforce and promoting from within?

I think the best answer is mentoring. First, the potential manager can begin being mentored by a great manager for a year prior to promotion. Large companies do this in leadership development programs. Small companies can have their own versions as well as informal mentoring programs. Throughout that year, the great manager will learn a lot about the potential manager. First, how he/she develops over the year, and second, is he/she ready, willing, and able to be a great manager. Second, the mentor will be able to identify skill gaps. The protégé may need either technical or non-technical classes and a good mentor can suggest this to them.

The protégé will also learn a lot over this year. First, the modeling that is done, often subconsciously by the mentor will set the stage for how the protégé will treat his/her direct reports when the time arrives, if it does. Second, the protégé will appreciate the time invested and it will build loyalty to the mentor and the organization. Third, he or she, if astute, will understand the investment being made in him/her and work harder to rise to the challenge.

As the first year winds down, it can be determined if the protégé is prepared for a management role. One of the most effective additional ways is for the protégé to have special project assignments. Further, the protégé should be continuing his/her education with business books in addition to skills gap classes. At the conclusion of the first year, sometimes the protégé can jump right into a role. Other times it can be a transition. In either case, the mentorship role should continue! Being in a new role is when the protégé will need the mentor the most!

At this time the role of the mentor may shift from “teacher” to “listener” or “sage”. Often there are now real life scenarios and questions. Having spent a year cultivating this relationship, there will be a trust and familiarity between the mentor and protégé that will serve them well.
Success doesn’t happen by accident. We create it.

Heather Chandler