Why Rapid Promotion can be the Worst Thing for your Career

Why Rapid Promotion can be the Worst Thing for your Career

The Leadership Pipeline is one of the most eye-opening leadership / management books I’ve ever read. I didn’t think it was going to be when I started it and in fact I nearly gave up after the first 20 or so pages (it starts a little dry). I’m really glad I didn’t!

The essence of the book is that there are several leadership levels:

  • Managing Self
  • Managing Others
  • Managing Managers
  • Functional Manager
  • Business Manager
  • Group Manager
  • Enterprise Manager

Each of the above levels requires different skills, values and time applications and the capability for these are developed in the passages between each of the levels.

A healthy leadership pipeline has leaders at each level who have the right skills, values and time applications. They operate at their level (don’t try and do the work of their direct reports) and understand a large part of their responsibilities are in hiring and coaching high-potential people beneath them to successfully transition to the next level.

An unhealthy leadership pipeline has leaders at each level who have not properly developed the right skills, values and time applications (they were most likely promoted rapidly and therefore skipped several levels). They resort to working below their level (often interfering and doing the work of their direct reports) and do not understand their responsibilities in developing a healthy talent pool beneath them that can step up in the future.

As you can imagine, the two above scenarios will create very, very different results. pipe

Whilst I think I was subconsciously aware of this, I don’t think I ever really spent time thinking about how it all fits together. Once you do, you start to fully appreciate the transitions that need to occur between each of the leadership levels and most importantly the skills you must acquire to be able to make a successful transition between them.

In the future I will certainly be much more aware of the bigger picture when considering how high potential people are coached, managed and promoted – and of course when thinking about my own career progression.

Below are a few of my top notes – I hope you find them useful:

  • Hiring from within should and can be done 90% of the time. Of course there are exceptions to this (I wrote a bit about this here – Promoting from within vs. hiring from the outside) but generally speaking if this isn’t happening it’s a sign that you do not have a healthy leadership pipeline.
  • As you move up the leadership chain you need to transition from a ‘doing’ mentality to one of delegating, working through others, coaching and strategizing.
  • Rapid promotion is rarely the right thing – it’s normally better to take your time to develop the necessary skills, values and time applications between each level. Keep the big picture in mind.
  • High performance and excess capacity is a sign that someone is ready for the next leadership level.
  • Every company is different and may have different leadership levels – you should look to create relevant levels for your company.
  • Producing a leadership pipeline requires a concerted commitment, energy and focus from the organization – it has to be high on the agenda (normally sponsored heavily by the CEO)
  • HR can play a big part in developing a strong leadership pipeline. However it’s worth remembering that much of the responsibility comes from those who are responsible for managing the individual (the boss). They need to be aware that the person is making the transition and should be capable of supporting and coaching them (having gone through the passages themselves properly is critical).
  • Leaders who coach effectively often to do so in the flow of managing.
  • When your cognisant of the leadership pipeline you’re less likely to be blinded by individual brilliance (it’s tempting to promote someone for wowing you with strong individual performance).
  • Most companies fail to put in performance standards that are differentiated by leadership levels. Doing so helps managers realise the different requirements between each level.
  • Pipeline failures are often because of the following reasons: 1. Selecting the wrong person, 2. Leaving poor performance in role too long, 3. Not listening to or seeking feedback and 4. Defining jobs poorly.
  • When evaluating where someone is in the pipeline, the following conversations are useful – 1. Understand properly their history, 2. What they are currently doing, 3. What their aspirations are. This will give you a good sense of where they sit in the pipeline. You should also discuss the leadership pipeline concept with them afterwards to align on where they are.

Lastly, thanks to Matt Blumberg for pointing me towards this book – he also has a good review of the book here.

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