Updated: Sep 20
Combat the failure of (virtual) leadership
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Remember the good old days? When we could do our jobs, and if we did an excellent job, we got a promotion? Nothing wrong with that. In theory. But I do question the intelligence of thinking that people who are good at their jobs (the “experts”) will therefore undoubtedly also be good at managing people.
Not all experts are people managers, and virtual leadership is showing the gaps like never before. Micro management, poor oversight, lack of understanding of how to motivate people (even from afar), all these issues could be avoided if we knew three things:
Do these people want to lead?
Are these people motivated by leading?
Do these people have the skills to lead?
1. Do they want to lead?
Do we ask an employee if they want to lead people before promoting them? Of course not, because traditionally promotions come with people management responsibility. However here is a quick illustration of why we should try another way. Take the following scenario:
Imagine a programmer who loves programming.
They love the structure and logic of it, they love that it allows them to be creative and to create solutions, as well as the fact they get to implement their solutions and see the impact of their work. They are so good at their jobs and make such a huge impact they are soon up for promotion.
Now imagine they are pulled from that programming role into a promotion that includes people management. They no longer get to program. They must instead conduct oversight, care about employee reports, budgets, cost cutting, etc. Not only have we lost a happy programmer who was good at their job, but we have created a situation that is endemic to poor team performance!
Check in with them
If someone is great at their job, ask them if they want to manage people in the same role. If not, then promote them into an expert position or trainer position. If you actually asked them, or offered them an alternative they may take it and be happier overall. Don’t burden them with performance management and reporting if that is not their desire. Allow them to mentor and coach, and share the joy of their work with their colleagues.
2. Are they motivated by leading?
Not all people are created with an equal desire to be managers. Not all people are motivated by people management, that is a lot of responsibility for another person, their career, their success, you have to care about them and their happiness. Managing people is a big deal.
If you do not believe this to be true, then people management is probably — definitely — not for you.
Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, and it can be formal — people management, or it can be informal — coaching and mentoring.
Check their motivation
I love the MSA (motive structure analysis) because it measures where you get your energy from. One of the core professional parameters of the MSA is Lead. Lead measures whether you get energy or are motivated by leading, in other words:
Are you motivated by, or do you get energy from, managing people? (disciplinary responsibility)
Or do you prefer to be managed and perhaps play an informal leadership role? (influencer and mentor, rather than disciplinary responsibility)
If a person scores low on Lead this does not mean that they cannot be a leader — in fact they can be a great leader! — but it does mean that they may not really enjoy it or get energy from it. In fact, while they may learn the skills and even do it effectively, it’s more than likely that it created a lot of stress in that person’s life.
I once conducted the MSA for a man who had been a people manger for over thirty years. He scored 5% in the professional preferences parameter Lead. He did not want disciplinary responsibility for people, he got no joy from this. He enjoyed influencing and teaching, not discussing wages and promotions! This particular gentleman took this to heart and left his people management role within three months, took a role with limited people responsibility and has never been happier!
3. Do they have the skills to lead?
People management is a skill. Skills can be learned, so this is not to say that an expert or someone who is great at completing a role, can’t be a people manager too, but do not assume:
People who are good at their jobs will be able to train or motivate other people to do their jobs well
People who are good at their jobs, want to stop doing the jobs they are good at and might even love
People who are good at their jobs, want a people management position
Often we promote people into management positions because they are good at their jobs, forgetting that this does not mean they will be good at managing people.
Give them the skills
Issues like micromanagement are just a symptom of an unskilled manager who has not been trained to manage people, and this can perpetuate the need to exert control when they don’t understand the employees motivations or differing work styles.
Train the people who do want the people management positions, being a “people person” is not enough to lead people. If they do want to be people managers and it is their first promotion, then train them, up-skill them, teach them how to coach, how to communicate, and how to achieve effective team dynamics. Help them succeed at the role rather than throwing them in the deep end, especially when some of their team may feel that they deserved that promotion instead!
A different kind of promotion
Promotion doesn’t have to be into a people management role. Give Expert promotions a try.
I learned to train and manage people at McDonalds restaurants, and their training program for managers is comprehensive, albeit in a tough environment. However I learned fast that I don’t actually love managing people. An introvert by nature, I prefer coaching, influencing, and mentoring a million times more than filling out a monthly performance management report, and conducting a yearly pay review.
People can still add value and add to the culture of the company through an expert role. We can still help others succeed in an expert role. We can continue to enjoy what we do, while we do it, in an expert role. Let’s make some room for expert promotions in our lives.
Promotions don’t need to include people management responsibility, and let’s try not to lose good people because we gave them a poor manager!
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