Leadership development: Deciding whether to promote to manager

October 26, 2016 by Wally Bock

Rebecca Knight’s article on the Harvard Business Review site asks a simple question: “Is Your Employee Ready to Be a Manager?” Here’s how she describes the challenge.

“You have an ambitious team member who’s asking to be promoted to manager. He’s great at his job, but is he really ready to lead? How do you judge his skills and experience? What’s the best way to measure his potential?”

The article proposes several things you can do. Most of them are about asking the candidate questions and judging the answers. I think that’s wrong-headed. You need to step back and observe behavior in response to various leadership development challenges.

Leadership development: Behavior trumps interviews

The step from individual contributor to leader is more like a career change than a job change. The best leadership development programs put potential leaders in “try-out” situations and see how they act. Then they evaluate a candidate’s readiness for promotion based on behavior. Here are four questions to help.

Leadership development questions

Ask two questions about how the potential leader acts. The questions represent two ways that leadership work differs from individual contributor work.

Can the candidate decide? We can teach people how to make better decisions. We can’t teach them to be willing to decide and making decisions is a key part of leadership work.

Is the candidate willing to confront team members about behavior or performance? As with decision making, we can teach people how to do this better, but we can’t teach them to be willing to do it.

There is one question you can ask about behavior as an individual contributor that will tell you about how a candidate will do as a leader. Does he or she enjoy helping others succeed? That’s an important part of an effective leader’s job.

The final question is more nuanced. How well did the group the candidate was responsible for perform? Effective leaders get results because people follow them willingly and getting results is an important part of a leader’s job.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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