#35 Please Don’t Promote Me!

by Steven Cerri on May 21, 2007

“There’s nothing worse than a promotion!”

Years ago, when people were asked what was the most stressful event in their lives, invariably, death of a loved one and moving were ranked up there at one and two, almost interchangeably. No more. The world has changed and so apparently has our perception of the most stressful event in our lives.

I came upon an article in the May 14th issue of BusinessWeek magazine. You’ll find it on the bottom of page 13 of the hardcopy edition. The article is titled, “Stress Factor: Please Don’t Promote Me”. The article begins with the following lead:

“For some, climbing the corporate ladder brings on vertigo. In a recent survey, nearly one in five managers ranked getting a promotion as their most challenging life event. One big reason, say researchers…who conducted a poll of 785 business leaders … is that 40% of managers get little or no support as they enter the new jobs, according to the survey. It’s sink or swim, says one researcher.” The business leaders ranged from line supervisory staff to those in executive suites, including many managers outside the U.S. Promotion was ranked as most challenging followed by bereavement, then divorce, moving, and then by managing teenage children.

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from this research.

The first is that mangers do not have a good means of selecting the next generation of managers and therefore, the wrong people are selected. This probably contributes to part of the the statistical result. If there were a better management-candidate-selection-process, current managers would be able to select those people who were indeed ready for their promotion to management.

The second conclusion to be drawn is that once a candidate selection process is used (faulty or otherwise) to select the next manager, adequate training, coaching, and preparation are usually not provided.

If you’re a technical professional who wants to be a manger or you’re a manager who wants to promote a technologist to manager and you’ve ever thought that management and communication training and coaching are not necessary… well it appears that many of your colleagues, those who have been promoted, would not agree.

From my experience coaching and training many technical professionals who have been promoted to management or who want to be promoted to manager, there is definitely truth in this BusinessWeek article. In our western culture we have an underlying belief that says that some important aspects of management and leadership are innate. In fact, it’s this belief in the innate aspects of management and leadership that leads us to talk about “empowerment”, “trial by fire”, “the leader of the team will rise to the challenge just like cream rises to the top of stirred milk”. These are all phrases that represent the underlying belief system that management and leadership don’t need to be taught but rather are forged in “trial by fire”.

Frankly, it’s nonsense. In today’s world, it just isn’t true. In days of old, leaders did indeed seem to just “show up”. Because these people had a specific behavior pattern, when the environment around them shifted to support their behavior, they were seen as leaders. Then when the situation shifted again, they were no longer leaders because their behavior no longer fit the environment.

Examples are Napoleon, General George Patton, and Boris Yeltsin.

People who are not examples of the old style of leadership but rather are examples of the 21st century type of leadership are General Dwight Eisenhower and President Jimmy Carter. (I’ve listed only a few examples of each category, but obviously you can see my point.)

Leaders can no longer afford to “just show up”. They must be prepared. You must be prepared. Management candidates must be trained and coached and they must be flexible in order to deal with a wide variety of situations and people.

The days of being promoted and “winging it” are gone, as clearly evidenced by the survey and by your own experience or that of someone you know.

It is time to get trained and coached to be as successful, competent, and fruitful as you can be… if management is where you’re headed.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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