Are You Setting Your Future Leaders Up For Failure?

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You’ve got a star performer in your organization. Let’s call her Amanda. Amanda is brilliant at her job. She’s so good, in fact, that you begin to think, “Amanda is fantastic! Imagine how valuable she’d be in management! Why I’ll bet she could turn her entire department around!”

So you promote Amanda to a leadership position. And you wait. And, slowly but surely, you watch as Amanda and her department start to die. (Figuratively speaking, of course. This isn’t that kind of an article.) What happened? Well, you made a common mistake—and in doing so, you inadvertently set Amanda up for failure. What was the mistake?

You forgot that leadership is a skill.

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Being good—even great—at your job doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be good at leading others to do that, or any other, job.

When you think about it, this makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you wouldn’t say, “Jeff is really good at basketball; let’s make him a cardiovascular surgeon,” would you? [Note: if your answer is, “Sure, why not?” please, PLEASE tell me you are not in a position to hire cardiovascular surgeons!] That would be ludicrous, because they are two completely different skill sets.

Well, so is leadership. It’s a skill set, and it’s quite possibly a skill set that your star performer doesn’t have—yet.

This is one of the main reasons some people have trouble when they’re promoted from team member to team leader. (Another reason, of course, is that their former team members are suddenly wondering why Brad, who used to be such a cool guy, is now yelling at them because they were five stupid minutes late to the meeting. Brad’s not cool anymore. But that’s a different article.)

If you want to set your star performers up for success when you promote them to leadership, the answer is simple:

Teach them how to be leaders!

Teach your people how to be leaders before you promote them to leadership! #leadership Click To Tweet

Look, leadership is a teachable—and learnable—skill. The idea of the “born leader” is a myth. People learn to become leaders—either through their environment (e.g., both their parents were great leaders, and so they absorbed the lessons they way we absorb our parents’ language as our own), through self-education (e.g., they took it upon themselves to read John Maxwell and other leadership authors; they took leadership classes and attended leadership seminars), or through an organizationally-sanctioned leadership program.

#Leadership is a teachable—and learnable—skill. Click To Tweet

A leader is:

  • A coach
  • A visionary
  • A motivator
  • A planner
  • A goal setter
  • A counselor
  • An example

Very few of these attributes are necessarily attributes of a widget-maker—even a very good widget-maker. So why would you think that the person who is your top widget-maker on Monday could suddenly be a great—or even good—leader on Tuesday?

Set your future leaders up for success. Get them some leadership training before you promote them. Give them the skills they’ll need to succeed.

Which, by the way, is another thing good leaders do. They develop leadership in others.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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