Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Becoming A Leader For All The Wrong Reasons

No matter what field or industry you work in, we’ve all had the experience of working for someone who was clearly not fit for the leadership role. In some cases, this was manifested in their inability to make key decisions and in the worst-case scenarios, it was like working with the boss from hell. Under these situations, it’s typical to wonder why someone who can’t effectively lead others would be given such a position. Now, thanks to two recent studies, some light has been cast on why these situations are more the rule than the exception.

In a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder among over 2 000 US employers and almost 4 000 US employees, it was revealed that 58% of managers hadn’t received any form of management training. This finding most likely explains why 26% of these same managers admitted that they weren’t ready to become a leader when they took on these management roles.

Looking at the relationship between these managers and their employees, the survey authors found that managers cited motivating their employees and managing interpersonal conflicts between co-workers as the top challenges that they have to face as leaders in their organization.

As for the employees surveyed for this study, some of the top concerns they had about their manager were a lack of regular feedback, not listening to the concerns of the employees, and a failure to follow through on what their manager said they would do.

In another study, Bradford Thomas and Scott Erker from Development Dimensions International (DDI) conducted a survey of 1 130 supervisors and first-level managers to understand how they’re overcoming the challenges they face as leaders, and what obstacles might be preventing them from succeeding in these roles.

Like the CareerBuilder study, Thomas and Ecker also found that the majority of first-time leaders had no prior management training or support – 57% of managers surveyed said they had to learn their leadership skills through the process of trial and error. This fact no doubt explains why 44% of new managers said that they didn’t know what it takes to succeed in a leadership role.

Additionally, this lack of support and guidance from senior management also has a negative impact on morale for managers who have to learn the ropes on their own. In fact, the number of managers who lost interest in being a leader was more than double among those who learned through trial and error (20%) as compared to those who had the full support of their organization’s management (9%).

Perhaps the most alarming finding, though, revolves around the reasons why employees chose to accept taking on a leadership role in their organization.

When asked why they accepted the promotion, half of those surveyed said they became managers for “greater compensation”, followed by another 39% who said they accepted the role in order to broaden their skills or seek some personal improvement. Only 23% of those surveyed said they took a management role out of a desire to “lead others”, a mere 2 percentage points ahead of those who said that “power and influence” was their reason for becoming a manager.

Consistent with other studies which have shown that money is a poor motivator over the long-term, those who accepted a managerial role for financial compensation were “57% more likely to regret the promotion than those who wanted to make a greater contribution” to their organization.

After reading the results of these two studies on how people end up in management positions, it should come as no surprise that many of us can tell a story or two about working with someone who clearly lacked the ability or skills to serve in a leadership capacity.

Fortunately, these findings are not so much a doom-and-gloom scenario for organizations as it is a wake-up call for both upper management and their employees to gain a better understanding about what’s involved in serving as a leader in today’s workplace.

While I’ve written before about how organizations can help develop future leaders within their workforce, I’d like to share these additional points on developing leadership potentials within your team which takes into consideration the findings of these two studies:

1. Promote leadership as a service role, not as a job perk or sign of prestige
If your organization is to remain competitive and thrive in today’s global marketplace, it’s critical that those you employ to oversee the efforts of your workforce understand that leadership is not about personal gains. Rather, it’s about empowering those you serve in order to ensure that everyone benefits from the shared effort.

As I’ve written about before, in today’s work environment it’s not enough for leaders to tell their team how they can accomplish a goal; they also need to demonstrate why that accomplishment matters.

2. Give clear expectations of what’s required in a leadership role
Given how the majority of new managers accept their promotions mainly for personal gains, it’s important that upper management clarify what their expectations are for employees who take on these roles within their organization.

By providing greater clarity in what will be required in these roles, employees will be more likely to view these leadership positions in terms of how it will serve their professional goals, instead of simply considering it as a means of climbing up the organizational ladder.

3. Provide coaching/mentoring to help employees transition into management roles
Considering that more than half of new managers who had no management training ended up regretting their decision to accept the promotion, it’s in the best interests of your organization to ensure that future leaders are adequately prepared for the challenges they’ll face in their new role.

4. Make efforts to ensure those you promote are effective communicators
Looking at the results of the CareerBuilder study, most of the issues cited by both managers and their direct reports revolved around failures in communication between the two parties. These findings serve to reinforce the reality that being a successful leader has less to do with one’s technical proficiency as it does with their ability to effectively communicate to their team regardless of circumstance.

There’s no question that being tapped by upper management to take on a new role as a manager in your organization is a big accomplishment. By taking appropriate measures to properly select leadership potentials, as well as providing them with ongoing support through their transition into this new role, organizations can ensure these promotions reap the benefits and future successes they’re hoping to achieve through these efforts.

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44 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , | April 11, 2011 by |

44 Comments on

Becoming A Leader For All The Wrong Reasons

  1. On April 11th, 2011 at 10:28 AM Barbara Ling said:

    I well-remember from my days at Bell Labs and AT&T that some of the 'leaders' were promoted simply because of politics and the like. Making leadership something *earned*and *service-oriented* – what a great idea.
    My recent post How To Easily Upload a Video To Multiple Sites Automatically With 1 Click

  2. On April 11th, 2011 at 4:28 PM davidburkus said:

    I think a lot of this stems from the belief that in order to be seen as someone who is developing in their career, you have to move up. I admire companies that have found a way to make employee growth's not dependent upon being promoted.

  3. On April 11th, 2011 at 6:38 PM Mary Jo Asmus said:

    My favorite suggestion of your four is #3. I really don't know how a manager, if they aren't a natural at leadership, can learn it except through good coaching or mentoring. Managing can be taught. Leadership must be learned (by most). A good coach can encourage, stretch, and hold an executive accountable to learn to lead others.
    My recent post Making a Habit of Gratitude

  4. On April 11th, 2011 at 10:11 PM Jim Matorin said:

    Show me the leadership. Sorry, thanks to today's economy, people have become tentative, inwardly focused, risk adversive, thus I am not witnessing any leadership in my industry. Interesting discussion in FLA last week, technology & information might automate business and eliminate the need for top management (a.k.a. leadership).

  5. On April 12th, 2011 at 2:12 PM Susan said:

    I think some new thinking needs to be brought to the design of the organizational structures and compensation systems if this is ever going to change. For as long as promotions are the primary way to visibly reward performance, and all too often the only way to sustainably affect someone's compensation, people who have neither the desire nor skill to manage and lead will end up in positions without the skills needed to do the job. We need ways to assess value of contribution other than position in a hierarchy.

  6. On April 13th, 2011 at 12:00 PM Jean Latting said:

    @Susan, I believe Susan you're onto something there….Well said.

  7. On April 14th, 2011 at 11:22 AM Becoming A Leader For All The Wrong Reasons « Peel Leadership Centre said:

    […] From Tanveer Naseer: “No matter what field or industry you work in, we’ve all had the experience of working for someone who was clearly not fit for the leadership role.” Click here to read full post […]

  8. On April 15th, 2011 at 6:44 AM adigaskell said:

    It's a similar picture in the UK. The government believe only 1 in 5 managers here have any kind of relevant qualification. Our own research at CMI suggests most managers get into the role by accident and don't really have the skills required to hit the ground running.

  9. On April 15th, 2011 at 7:49 AM paul54nicholas said:

    This is really stimulating stuff – thank you Tanveer and everyone. An old and sagacious leader – with decades of participation in personnel selection behind him – told me he believed that more than 50% of the time when interviewing for leadership posts the best candidate had NOT got the job. He attributed this principally to the intrusion of ego issues within the decision makers. He felt this was perhaps the single greatest cause of talent loss to organisations. Would anyone echo his sentiments?

  10. On April 15th, 2011 at 2:22 PM FinallyFast.com said:

    Both the post and several of the comments on this post bring up really interesting points about Leadership, Management and promotion that I've never even considered before. The level to which being promoted is intertwined with responsibility as a manager and therefore requiring leadership ability is something I don't think most people really consider when choosing to accept a promotion, something obviously echoed in the research you highlight in your post.

    Give the research you presented I think it's great evidence for the fact that internal education to provide lower level employees with management skills would be a worthwhile investment. I know from a friend of my father that GSK holds all kinds of internal education programs meant to provide their science focused employees with basic leadership and management skills. I don't know personally if it's working for them, but I'd like to think that it is and that it's something that should become the norm rather than the exception.

  11. On April 15th, 2011 at 3:32 PM Joana said:

    It's pretty easy to see now why so many managers are bad and are simply there because they've just been in the company longer, not because they are really qualified. More companies should adopt some of your policies, it would benefit everyone. Managers and their teams.

  12. On April 16th, 2011 at 5:44 AM delena said:

    Wow, this is totally not surprising, especially when I think of all the managers I've worked under in a corporate scenario.

    Unfortunately, it is so damaging to morale and even fosters resentment (even hatred in some places where I worked) for the company itself, and leaves employees jaded and apathetic to their own jobs

    I finally had to leave it altogether and find work in other venues because I just couldn't stand the way the corporate model and bad managers made me wish that I could get hit by a car or have some other dire accident land me in the hospital simply so I didn't have to go to work. That's not exactly healthy.

    Unfortunately, the corporate business model doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon.


  13. On April 16th, 2011 at 7:19 AM steve said:

    The same is here with my boss……he simply knows to yell and abuse….

  14. On April 16th, 2011 at 5:34 PM Dorothy Dalton said:

    Tanveer – great post as usual. As individuals move through the ranks it's very common to find a lack of training for every step. To complicate things further , the newly promoted very often find themselves managing and leading their ex peers. Hardly surprising that things go adrift.

  15. On April 22nd, 2011 at 8:01 AM Karin Zastrow said:

    Great article – thank you to Monica Diaz for drawing my attention to it.
    My favorite part is the part about setting clear expectations. Not because it prevails in importance over the other three suggestions, but because this is so often ignored or taken for granted that it has truly become the missing link of leadership development.

  16. On April 25th, 2011 at 5:14 AM charlene@michigan said:

    Wonderful article Tanveer! I agree with all of your points regarding developing leadership potentials, especially number 4. For me, communication is the most important issue in a team or company. A good leader does not just dictates but listens and weighs things before making a decision. Thanks for posting!

  17. On August 25th, 2011 at 7:46 PM Anthony Vanwhy said:

    I think the selfish trend is because most people hate their jobs. It is just a means to an end for them. It's just as much of a problem that people don't want to be lead as it is that people want to lead for the wrong reasons.

  18. On September 22nd, 2011 at 4:53 AM Ana said:

    I know that most of the managers are in their positions because of the financial benefits that they get.

    It's the sad truth, but it is what it is. Therefore, it might be a good thing to make the most out of the situation. Provide the financial motivation for those managers who prove themselves good as leaders, communication enablers, effective and inspirational bosses.

  19. On September 26th, 2011 at 1:02 PM Ana said:

    I am very interested in your ideas for doing so. I'm not saying that this is the only way but this is why I feel this way:

    I believe that some of the financially driven managers can be motivated by these perks at first and that gives you the time to develop different tactics for their motivation. Their financial motifs don't necessarily mean that they are not doing a good job.

    As for the ones who are pursuing the career for the sake of helping others, this will never be a downside.

  20. On September 29th, 2011 at 11:58 AM Ana said:

    I see!

    Thank you very much for clarifying this for me. To be honest, it will take me a bit to ponder on this and think of the ways you suggest.

    Thank you!

  21. On March 6th, 2012 at 10:01 AM Creating A Culture That Promotes Problem-Solving Delegation | TanveerNaseer.com said:

    […] responsibility to those they lead.One clear example of this form of delegation is problem-solving. Given how most managers are promoted to these positions based on their past accomplishments and leve…, it’s only natural that they feel responsible for trying to solve whatever problems their […]

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