Promotion policies of some companies convert exceptional performers into mediocre or sub-standard leaders.
Ravi Balachandar (not his real name) joined one of the top FMCG companies in India as product manager when he was just 25. His academic credentials (IIM etc) and sheer brilliance prompted the company to promote him as senior vice-president in charge of a large profit centre within a year. After all, Balachandar was getting hordes of offers and the company thought he had to be retained at all costs — a fast-track promotion was a small price to pay anyway. Less than a year later, the MD of the company was relieved to see Balachandar put in his papers. The young man’s ivory tower theoretician approach and brash manners alienated too many people and the profit centre under him was going haywire. “It was amazing that a man so brilliant in his work proved to be a disaster as a profit centre head with 500 people under him,” the MD says. The 360 degree feedback on Balachandar was an eye-opener, forcing the MD to admit that he may have promoted the young man too soon. While admitting his brilliance, Balachandar’s colleagues described him as a pathological liar, a control freak, a know-all tyrant. Some even said he had the spine of a jellyfish — someone who would never stand up for you. Cases like Balachandar’s are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.
There are countless examples of how short-sighted and faulty executive promotion policies that focus only on rigid hierarchical structures and convert exceptional performers into mediocre or sub-standard managers. Most companies seek out smart, aggressive people, paying more attention to their accomplishments than to their emotional maturity as a leader. Great companies have found a way out. Microsoft, for example, has created a separate status scale for its software engineers who can get higher compensation and external profile than their managers, the basic idea being that managers gain promotion as they take on more people and greater responsibility and software engineers gain in status and pay as they demonstrate brilliance.
Companies like Microsoft or GE would promote an average accountant as a manager because he has the potential to outperform an outstanding accountant in a managerial position. After all, the goal of a manager should be to get the best results from his staff, not just from himself. Consultants say this does not mean that the outstanding accountant should be ignored as the career ladder for him may possibly lie sideways rather than head upward. The old corporate ladder that stretches to the executive suite can’t be available for everybody. These companies also believe that exceptional performers need not be rewarded only by promotions that could only take them further away from the work they like and do well. Another consultant says the Peter Principle is still relevant today. Some of the young leaders who want to take the elevator to the corner office may just not be ready for the additional responsibilities. As a person continues his path of promotion, he's eventually promoted right out of his field of expertise and into a position where he’s utterly and helplessly incompetent. Another problem with these superfast promotion tracks is that these young leaders may have raw horsepower, demonstrated performance, strong competencies and the ability to leapfrog through hierarchies, but may be lacking maturity and emotional competence to be a leader. Kerry Bunker of the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) has documented the rise of bright young managers with unusually high levels of talent, intellect and ambition. They are given regular opportunities to advance and move into very senior levels of responsibility on an accelerated career path. CCL’s studies have found that about a third of senior executives derail or plateau at some point, most often due to an emotional deficit such as the inability to build a team or regulate their own emotions in times of stress.
“Unfortunately, these young execs often arrive with gaps in the critical developmental experiences needed to hone them into authentic, mature and emotionally competent leaders,” Bunker explains. “The result is a pool of leaders that I call the ‘young and the clueless,”’
Bunker says in “Catch a rising star: Rescuing the Young and Clueless”’ — a CCL Leading Effectively webinar. Bunker says these leaders often rush through powerful experiences of life and the fallout comes when they find their way into senior positions but are more focused on individual achievement and recognition than on building the leadership team or working with and through others. Not surprisingly, they often excel in a strategic and bottom-line sense, but struggle to operate effectively with peers and immediate juniors who are more seasoned, better connected, more politically savvy and more grounded in terms of self-awareness and emotional maturity.
7 months ago