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challenge of promotion to management
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The perils of promotion

Monday, 27 July 2009

I come from a family in which teaching is a pretty common career choice - my mum was until retirement, and my sister currently is. One of my thoughts (and frustrations) about teaching is that the more a teacher gets promoted (through being good at teaching), the less teaching they actually do. This problem is beyond the simple “promoted to one level above their competence” cliche, but is actually about taking people who are good at (and presumably enthusiastic about) one particular job, and removing them from it, giving them the reward of no longer having full contact with children and teaching their subject.

I was reminded of this today, in a meeting about a management training course to take senior, functional leaders to the next level, as potential future members of the board. One of the key challenges during development and promotion to this level is that people have risen, usually to the top of their specific function (sales, finance, operations and so on) because of their expertise in that area. However, at the most senior levels, a much broader view and approach is needed.

I also come across this at an earlier stage in management development - the promotion of individuals into their first people management roles. I’ve often come across technically extremely competent people who need an awful lot of coaching and support to get them from that level into their first management position. To me, there are a number of critical similarities between these two transitions:

1) Letting go

At either of these moments, the individual has to let go of their established (and likely successful) approach to things, and do something very new. They need to learn to see things from different perspectives and challenge their natural tendency to look at things from their own.

2) Learning again

The chances are that the person involved as got very close to the top of their learning curve in their current role. But at this point, they need to expose their weakness and open their minds to new learning - it’s similar to being dropped in a new country and having, quickly, to pick up a new language in order to survive.

3) Leaning on others

Again, having made the progress they’ve made, it’s likely that in their current roles, they spend a lot of time being a coach, mentor, or general support to other people. One major challenge is to switch that “expert” mentality into one of being a coachee again, and asking for support from others.


All of these things can be very difficult without help, but, with the right support, encouragement and environment, those people who have already proved that they can learn, develop, and lead are more than capable of doing it at the next level.

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