To Promote or Not To Promote?

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May 8, 2014 by Rick Brammer

There has certainly been a lot written lately about leadership and management. There are debates about whether a leader is made or born, what type of leadership style is best, and the differences between a leader and a manager. One of the topics I find particularly interesting involves the promotion of a good team member into a management position based solely on their performance in their current position. I’d like to weigh-in on these topics without getting into a lengthy discussion. Here is a short (I promise) take on each based on my experiences.

Made or born – It is my experience and personal belief that it is a combination of the two. There are certain personality traits—foundational bricks—every successful leader must have. These traits usually are exhibited at a very young age which suggests leaders are born with them. An individual born with leadership traits usually learns to hone the skills and behaviors required to be a successful leader.

Leader versus manager – Managers manage processes, leaders lead people. Enough said.

Leadership style – There are many styles of leadership and even though there has been movement away from certain types or styles, they are still present and accounted for. For example, the command and control style that works well in a military environment is still being used in many corporate environments today even with the astounding amount of research indicating that a cultivate and coordinate style is more conducive for success. It is my belief that successful leadership isn’t about a single style, it’s about the ability to change your style based on the situation and individual. This has been referred to as adaptive or situational leadership. This theory of leadership was developed by Dr. Paul Hersey, a professor and author of “The Situational Leader” and Ken Blanchard, author of the best-selling “One-Minute Manager”. They trademarked the term Situational Leadership Theory and have continued work on this theory since first introducing it in mid 1970s. In essence the theory says that successful leaders should change their styles based on the maturity of the people they’re leading and the details of the task. Maturity is defined by the willingness, skills and confidence one has to complete a task. We all know that individuals learn differently—it only makes sense they require different leadership styles to prosper.

Promote based on current performance – In my opinion, this is an extremely bad idea. I learned this one the hard way! The individual being promoted must possess the skills and behaviors required to be successful in a leadership role. A quick story, I was managing an inbound customer service call center and had a rep that was just phenomenal, especially on sales calls. She routinely led the team in sales every month and won almost all incentives and contests we had. After years of excelling in her position, she began to inquire about being promoted and applied—unsuccessfully— for several openings. The combination of being rejected for positions and her belief that she had earned a promotion led to her becoming dissatisfied. The management team discussed this and determined that the next time we had an opening we would give her the opportunity. This happened and it didn’t take long for both sides to conclude that this was a bad decision and fit. She attended management training and worked with a peer that was assigned to assist in the transition. We had hoped that she would be able to share her tactics and expertise with her team and lead them to become successful sales reps. As it turned out, her secret to success was simply working hard and never giving up—it wasn’t based on technique at all. Here’s one example, she would take lists of potential customers home with her and call them as she did her ironing and house work. Remember, this was an inbound call center! No one was aware of this until after she had been promoted and we began discussing what she could share with her team. After a short period she came to us and requested that she be moved back to her old position. She did not like the responsibilities nor did she feel competent in her new role. It was determined to be the best course of action and once moved back she became energized and better than ever. She was provided support, training, and a coach, but did not possess the foundational traits required to be a leader. We almost lost a great member of our team because we put her into a position where she did not have the traits or skills necessary to be successful.

So, there’s my quick take on some of the hot leadership topics. Thoughts?

Rick Brammer is president and co-owner of United Credit Service, Inc. Founded in 1950, United Credit Service, Inc. is a full service revenue cycle management and debt collection agency in Wisconsin providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. We offer pre-service collection solutions as well as traditional back-end collections. Visit our website at or call 877-723-2902.


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