Why do we promote leaders to fail?

Why is it that most companies neglect to train leaders before promoting them? Why is it that after promoting leaders to fail, we are the first to point fingers and say that they are no good? Why is it that training leaders are not a priority?

As I watched one of Simon Sinek’s talk on ‘the long game’, a realization dawned on me. I saw only two companies that understand the importance of training leaders. That is not a lot compared to over 30 years of corporate experience. All employees in line for promotion (or new leaders hired from outside the company) have to undergo this three-month program.

I can still recall this quote I saw hanging on the wall of the HR Division of a huge Commercial Bank in Saudi. It’s a quote from management guru Peter Drucker. It says “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance.”

Try ignorance. You will see leaders waiting for instructions instead of leading. You will see leaders mimicking bad leadership practices because they don’t know better. You will see leaders taking credit for the work that their teams accomplished. You will see leaders shunning accountability for the failure of their team. They are quick to point fingers at their people. Some of them even do so in public. As expected, this leaves a bad feeling for the rest of the employees.

Not developing your people and your leadership rank is very short-sighted. Companies are so focused on making a quick profit. They set aside the long-term financial gains of developing great leaders. It’s a long game, my friends. You may win now, but poor leadership will harm the organization a few years down the line.

Why are Japanese companies so successful with decades of market dominance? For one thing, they understand the importance of investing in people development. The other is that they play the long game. They look at how their decisions today will benefit the company years from now and not just for the next quarter.

It’s such a logical decision to develop your people and leaders. Yet, not a lot of companies have such development plans. The former CEO of the National Commercial Bank doubles the training budget in difficult times. Other companies are slashing away.

Why double? Because developing our leaders and our people is more important in difficult times. We need them to perform better. It’s easy to be a good leader when times are great. It’s easy to take credit for a strong market. It’s easy to claim the success of a strong and respected brand. It’s easy to bask in your ego.

But, how does this same under-developed leader perform in challenging times? He will not know what he does not know. They have to know and learn strong leadership practices. They have to learn it now.

A similar mistake happens when promoting employees to leadership roles. They assume that a strong subject matter expert is a great leader. Newsflash! The skills needed to be a great subject matter expert and a strong leader are different.

Promoting a great sales executive into a sales management role is bound to fail without a development plan. By doing this, we destroyed the role he left behind. We took out a strong sales executive from the sales force. We also destroyed the role of the sales manager. We placed someone who was not provided the right tools into the leadership role. After a few months in the job, the sales manager quits because he was not happy with his new role. He will be struggling to motivate, empower and develop his team. There is also the possibility that he will boss them around. Worse, the higher-ups get rid of him and label him as an incompetent leader.

I have been around in the corporate world long enough to see the damage of these decisions. Such decisions impact the promoted leader, the people around him, and the company.

The quality of leadership in a company is very important. The quality of leadership determines the success or failure of the organization. Let’s equip our leaders, let’s invest in them, let’s mentor them, let’s grow them to be great leaders. There are a few things more important than this.Jordan Imutan

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