Leadership

Case Study - is she "promotable"?

Many people who have been promoted would have been better off if they'd stayed where they were. In this blog, leadership coach John M McKee shares a real life case study on the issue.

 A client called me this week to discuss one of his PMs. The issue on the table was whether or not she was promotable.

This Project Manager has been with the company for about 10 years, which is before he arrived. In her late 40's or early 50's, she's competent in her current role. He's certain that she's got the experience and understanding to take on more responsibility at a higher level, but her style causes him to be cautious. She tends to be very quiet in his staff meetings, even though he knows from earlier conversations that she has strong opinions that he'd like brought into the dialog. He feels this will be an issue if she moves into a more senior role because the team she'd be managing is full of strong and opinionated players.

"I'm concerned that she's going to be run over by some of those individuals. If she can't open up in my staff meetings, how can I expect her to ride herd over a group comprised of young and assertive people who are, by the way, pretty full of themselves?"

On the other hand, he values her depth and thoughtful approach:

"Unlike some of my younger leaders, "I know she's not going to overreact to the 'crisis du jour'. I want to have that seasoned perspective at the my leadership table."

He's tried to coax her participation in group discussions by making comments such as, "Well, I know Susie (not her real name, obviously) has some ideas about this. What do you have to say about it, Susie?"

And then: deafening silence. At best she may offer something like, "I think we've covered all the bases on this subject."

When he's followed up with her afterwards, she always sticks to her earlier comment; perhaps with the addition of something like, "No use wasting other people's time just rehashing the same stuff over and over."

So - is she promotable or not? Should he add her to his leadership team to get some balance in style even if it means that she may have trouble overseeing an assertive group?

My client admitted he had not asked Susie if she'd like to move up the ladder. That wasn't totally surprising, by the way. I find it's very common approach in many companies and organizations. Although incorrect, many managers simply presume that everyone has the same goals and aspirations. So, asking is always a good starting point.

Often, people accept more responsibility for money or status, and other, less-clear reasons such as believing it's the right thing to do. Afterward, they might state that they were satisfied with their previous job but didn't want to hurt their chances at the company by turning down a promotion or job broadening opportunity. Consequently, many organizations have people in leadership positions who'd have preferred to remain where they were. It goes without saying that these folks are not usually the best leaders, and they rarely provide inspiration and motivation.

Given that Susie seems to hold back in team environments, hasn't asked for a promotion directly - what would you do if you were her boss? Is it better to leave her where she is or give her a nudge and let her realize her potential?

My client feels like it's his responsibility to encourage Susie to move ahead and to help her be all that she can be. Additionally, he likes the idea of adding a woman to his leadership team because it's all all-male group currently. And lastly, he believes that if she doesn't get a move at this time, she may never have the opportunity in the future when he moves on which he feels will take place in the next year or two.

As a coach, I resist making decisions for clients. I think the old adage of giving one a fish to eat or helping them to learn how to fish is applicable when it comes to leadership coaching. Additionally, it's important to understand a client's motivators. After all, this issue might be driven by his own issues and not just because he is an enlightened supervisor.

This is an actual, ongoing issue for a real client.

What is your advice for him?

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

17 comments
blahblah123
blahblah123

She sounds efficient; the type of person who dislikes long meetings and/or people who love the sound of their own voice. If you want a real test, give her a minor project to spearhead. Assign a few loud, opinionated juniors to help out, but remind her that she has the final say. See what happens.

kruegerc
kruegerc

Wow, change the name and that sounds like me. After years of not having authority to make decisions I found it hard to just jump in and take charge. Yet with opportunities thrown at me in emergency situations I managed just fine. I'm still learning but I do feel more comfortable now about speaking up and taking charge. Ask her if she is really interested, give her encouragement, be a mentor. She may surprise you.

BigBlueMarble
BigBlueMarble

This manager's decision-making process is backwards. Suzie has opinions, but doesn't share them. Obvious question: why? Only Suzie can answer this. I believe this manager should discuss his concerns with Suzie - find out why she prefers to listen and observe rather than participate, and ASK HER to speak out at meetings. Put the ball in her court; her actions will answer any questions about whether or not she is "ready" for a promotion. Make sure she understands that her participation is expected in the future. (I'm presuming she's not a mind-reader.)

JosB
JosB

While in a different situation I never promote anyone just because of he/she knows how to handle the current tasks or because the've been on the job for a long time. It's more the feeling and knowledge that this person is able to attract and keep the right people around him or her to make my team a success. The only reason I read for the promotion is having a seasoned woman in the leadership team. Other than that it's more about feeling responsible for her. What are the other benefits of promoting Susie? Not for her but for the complete team? When promoting her you lose a skilled worker and might not get a competent leader. Most of the promotions I make are the result of frequent (informal) talks with people in my team. I know how they think about themselfs and others. Some want promotion, others don't and some never express it. When I think someone who has never expressed the possibility about promotion is fit for a more leading position I just have a chat with them. Would they care for some additional responsibility, do they think they could benefit my team more from a leading position, would a promotion be something that would benefit them and how (not only financial or ego please). My advice for the manager would be to take long and deep breath and rethink why he wants to promote her. Is it because he 'feels' that he needs to help her or is it because she would be a true asset to his leadership team? Next he needs to take a long deep breath and think why he never had some informal talk with her on the subject of more responsibility. Not only on promotion, but also on the way she behaves in meetings. Sure, she doesn't like to be 'rehashing the same stuff over and over'. But that's just avoiding taking responsibility. And how do others in the company think about her? It might be that she's up to the task but that the people she's supposed to lead think she can't because of how she is at meetings. And a succesful leader is not leading by brute force, but because others allow him/her to lead.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

All too often promotions are seen as a one-way event. Giver a full position/responsibility description and ask her if she is interested. Let her know that there is a 90 day trial period and that if it does not work it will not reflect badly on her it will just be a case of she doesn't fit the position. After the 90 days do an eval like you would for any new hire. Are any short-comings correctible with training or effort. Some people will not show thier abilities until they are put in a position to do so. Others may just need a few pointers. If it is determined she is not a good fit tell her WHY she is not a good fit so that she may work on these areas in the future.

sonya_rybock
sonya_rybock

Why not be her mentor? give her a special project - not too big - if she can handle the small one with great results...this would be a stepping stone to much higher achievement...if not, she has still learned some new skills in leadership, teamwork, priorities...and can enhance her position for the moment

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Here is a Key Member of his staff who opinion this person values and he doesn't know what she wants out of work. All to often Managers like to push Their goals onto others and they want to believe that everyone shares their same goals. What is not mentioned here is how Susie was treated by the previous Manager and if her opinions where constantly ridiculed. She also may just not like some or all of the All Male Team that this person wants to promote her into and may have issues with the way that they do things. What I find confusing here is how can this person have been there so long and know so little about this person. When I took up a New Management Position the very first thing I needed to do was learn my staff, the Companies needs and aspirations came latter but without knowing my staff and what they wanted and where capable of I would have been unable to find the best solution for meeting the companies needs and expected goals. And Shock Horror some people just do not like Meetings where they are the center of attention because they are Shy in themselves or any number of reasons that are perfectly valid to them. Get them on a 1 to 1 and they will tell you exactly what they think but are impossible to get to say much when they are in a group. The real question here is [b]What Does Susie Want out of Life?[/b] And as this Manager doesn't know this staffer well enough to answer that very basic question he has no option but to ask her in a non intimidating manner and [b]Privately![/b] Personally I didn't have a problem with accepting Promotions while I stayed as a Tech but I consistently refused promotions when they involved me moving away from what I loved doing into the Nonproductive side of the Business. I really didn't like managing the Service Section all that much to be perfectly honest as I couldn't continue to get my [b]Hands Dirty [/b] with the work that I loved doing but I realized enough that it was better me doing this job rather than some go getter who had no idea of what the job entailed and just expected results without knowing what was involved or how to achieve it. I am reminded of a incident where the Powers that Be decided to [b]Punish[/b] me for being a naughty little boy and putting the clients first rather than the company inferred rules after they discovered what it was I was doing. Instead of knowing me personally they decided that the job that was not only necessary but that everyone complained about needing to do would be a perfect way to teach me a lesson Not to think for myself and do what I was employed to do was a perfect place to place me so I would came begging back and tow the line after that. So they moved the State Service Manager to what was effectively a Backwater that had long hours lots of traveling and hard work not to mention needing to deal very closely with that devisions customers and I didn't want to return. I built up a better client base while I was there increased the income 300% and was out of the office more than I was actually in it. I loved the work and when I was approached by My Manager begging me to return to my job I refused. I did however give full details of what I had done wrong and this was used by then all over the country to save both the company a considerable amount of money but more importantly the Customers a Considerable Down Time and lost production. Because I was an Electronics Engineer I wasn't expected to like having to go to Motor Racing Events deal with the actual Race Teams and generally work my A$$ off during Race Meetings not to mention attend those Race Meetings. Because those in charge of the company where I worked didn't know me or bother looking up my work history they just assumed that I would hate the work. Instead they returned me to my original line of work that I loved and actually paid me to do it and get treated like Royalty by the Customers. That was a very big mistake on their part as when push came to shove and I wasn't given an option to stay put I resigned and went to work for one of the customers that I had been supporting for the past year. :D I should also add promoting her because she is Female is also wrong. By all means ask her about if she would like to be promoted because she is the best person to do the job. But offering her the position because she is female is just so wrong that it's not funny. Personally I would find it insulting if I was offered a Job just to be a Token [i]Insert whatever here.[/i] Col

kenbergins
kenbergins

Self confidence is key in ones self for any leadership position, as is being a good listener. Ask for her help on who she would recommend filling the leadership position and why ( strong points vs weak points ) by having her write a report on possible candidates. If she has the want, desire, and ability to move up, she will put herself as one, if not the top one, on the list of three to five possible choices. Then, if she does not list herself, and you want to find out why, because you think she would be a good fit for this senior leadership position, it should be easy to interview her from her own list of reasons for the possible candidates. If she lists herself, and the reasons why she would be good at this position, and you agree or don't agree, you will be able to promote her or not promote her, and feel good about it. I would call this win-win, everyone wins, and no bad feelings if she is not the chosen candidate.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

In this particular case it seems like an issue of confidence more than ability. This is teh best application for self confidence training such as DaelCarnegie. If she learns HOW to speak to groups,HOW to gain her confidence by speaking on a subject in which she is experienced (what the boss seems to want her to do) then she's best of hettign some public speaking training and building her self confidence. Apparently she is strong opinioned but not assertive, this is generally a result of self confidence. She knows herself but doesn't know how to convey that to others as she is not self confident. Teah her how to get her ideas across and make her point assertively and confidently and you should have a star employee in 14 weeks.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Sometimes people don't know what they are capable of. He could be the first boss to help her realize her potential. Or it could cause her a lot of heartburn.

KSoniat
KSoniat

Last place I worked before becoming a stay-at-home mom for a while we had a weak manager and a director who was one of my better bosses ever. I frequently sat-in for the manager in meetings and assigned projects to programmers and did many "acting" manager things. The director approached me about replacing the manager (the manager was being ousted regardless so my saying no would not affect the outcome - my first question BTW). The director said I would have to come in early, leave late, come in any weekend any programmer was implementing a project, and if I had to fire my best friend in the department and she cried I could not also cry. Before he laid it out in those terms I was very excited, after all I was doing much of the work anyway. Then I thought I had two small children and that was not what I wanted even though it was what I had worked for the the last X number of years. I requested to go part-time and later when the company was bought out they removed all part-time positions. I am still friends with that Director - he has moved to another company since, but he did me a huge favor by truly laying it out for me. Now... my kids are grown and I might make a different decision if the opportunity arises again.

ITCompGuy
ITCompGuy

As an ex-military man, one of the things that I respected about the military was that it felt that in some way EVERYONE had to be a follower AND be prepared to be a leader. The military chain of command is a perfect example. If the leader falls, the next person (by rank) takes the lead, and so forth down the line. On top of that, those that reach pivotable points in rank have to take leadership classes designed to teach leadership skills. Each advancement or pivotable point requires a more advanced leadership class. This can help to show the necessary leadership skills to perspective leaders no matter what their personal style or personality. In the civilian word, everyone is different, and some have more outgoing or aggressive styles that are recongnized more in the business world. Even after my military background, personally, I have a more humble, non-confrontational style that is sometimes mis-interpreted as shyness or lack of knowledge, or possibly non-leadership potential. If there is a person (male, female, short, tall, whatever the label) that a manager feels has leadership potential, then it is in the best interest of all involved if the manager lets that person know. Then the person will realize that they will have to focus on weak areas and prepare for additional responsibility. Also, the manager can start grooming this person by teaching and sharing insights on the necessary adjustments that need to be made.

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

If Susie is a quiet little nebbish who will never raise her voice because she doubts anyone will ever care, then she should not get a promotion. If Susie is keeping quiet because it would be dumb to stick her head up and get it cut off, then that's a situation that needs to be addressed on a number of levels. It could be that Susie is making the smartest choice available to her. Whether she could perform well in a different work situation, as the manager's gut tells him she could, depends both on Susie and on this hypothetical dark matter within the organization. He doesn't understand Susie much, but sees qualities in her that he likes. I don't know where all this is coming from. He certainly hasn't gotten the information from her he needs, but it sounds like he never asks the right questions, either.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

The obvious and painful answer is that instead of playing parent and deciding his employee's future, the client should ask the employee what they want in their career. You are correct that some people do not desire to be in management for a number of reasons, such as not wanting to deal with HR issues, not caring to deal with other's managers' office politics ('tis a strange machiavellian world of Byzantine bureaucracy and Shakesperian drama in which we dwell, say I), pressure to perform to budget and ROI, etc. Having been an upper manager myself for a couple of companies and an officer in the military, I much prefer being an architect to being the boss.

jpesadilla
jpesadilla

As previously stated, yes sometimes people don't realize their potential. Or they get comfortable where they are. The boss might want to take the opportunity at her next review to mention his thoughts and ask her opinion. Would she be initerested, does it scare her. It's obvious that there needs to be some communication on the part of both parties involved.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is that it's 'up or out', an employee retention model that rarely works in the civilian world. A civilian employee who's happy and competent as a middle manager can be one her entire career. A military NCO or junior officer doesn't have that option.

wlcjprice
wlcjprice

He doesn't know what she wants and maybe she doesn't know if she'd want to move up. If she does move up - she may not like it and would she be allowed to get her previous position back. Why not give her some tasks to do, in that area, to see if she is capable and shows an interest. She may like where she is and could be why shes not assertive in meetings - to not give the impression of wanting more responsibility.

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