Finding Leaders instead of Promoting Managers

How does your company decide who is going to be promoted to a ‘Management’ role?  Do they pick the people that are really good at ‘doing the work’ and then send them on a Management Training course?  Does that work?  Isn’t this what was described in “The Peter Principle”, back in 1969 by  Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull?  That was meant to be humorous, not advice on how to run your business!

So, what can you do instead?  I’d start by identifying the natural leaders in your business.  Observe the people that work for you; who are the networkers, who do people go to when they have a problem to solve?  Those individuals might be a starting point for identifying the potential leaders.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

If you recall, I explicitly separate leadership and management.  Your business still needs managers, to manage processes, projects, budgets etc., but you need leaders to lead the people.  If you put ‘managers’ in positions of leadership, then they may well treat your people as if they were simply entities such as projects or products.

Once you have identified the natural leaders, talk to them, coach them, identify their strengths and weaknesses and put them into positions where they can use their strengths.  Did you think that I was going to suggest that you work on improving their areas of weakness?  That might be something that you would consider, but think carefully:  if the weakness is likely to result in them not being good leaders, then they’re probably not the right person.

I’d recommend one of my favourite books on this subject: “First break all the rules”, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.  What this book explains, is why we should look to use the strengths of each person in our companies to best effect.  It is important that both the individuals and their managers to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest enough to own up to their weaknesses.

If you’re looking to improve the engagement of your employees, talk to them about their strengths and weaknesses.  What will you achieve by doing this?  By using each individual and their strengths, you can expect to see more engagement resulting from each person being allowed to do what they’re good at, and enjoy doing.  Is there a downside?  Yes, but only if you have a key objective to meet which isn’t a strength of any one individual in your team.  But that aside, you’ve already increased engagement by focussing on their strengths!

What are my weaknesses?  I suppose that I could share one with you:  I get easily distracted when I’m trying to do something that doesn’t really interest me.  I’m writing this blog right now, rather than doing what I really should be doing!

Think about the consequences…

Once again, I’ve found myself shouting at the radio!  This time, on BBC 5 Live’s breakfast show, it would appear that there is a suggestion that ‘benefit’ claimants should receive their money by way of a cash-card that will only allow them to spend money on ‘the essentials’.  A little more digging, revealed that this was proposed by a Conservative MP in the House of Commons on the 18th December who proposed the introduction of a ‘welfare card’.

The aim of this ‘welfare card’ is to prevent those in receipt of some benefits spending this money on luxury items including ‘cigarettes, alcohol, Sky Television and gambling’ but instead will allow them to purchase essentials such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing’.

Courtesy of Rosen Georgiev /

Is this a good idea?  Will it work? I doubt it!

It appears to me that many ideas proposed by governments around the world lack one thing:  consideration of what we, everyday people, will do to get around the latest idea that is meant to make things better for us.

In my business improvement training, I encourage people to use tools like Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to test their ideas for new ways of working.  I get them to play devil’s advocate with themselves, with their own new ideas.  I ask them to think of ways that, if these new processes were imposed on them, they would avoid changing, or even better, how they could prove that they were actually worse than the status quo.

I can think of many examples of the unintended consequences that result from governments making changes to ‘improve’ our lives, but my favourite has to be the requirement, that was imposed on General Practitioners  that all patients must be able to attend an appointment within 24 hours.  In order to meet this artificial and unnecessary target, many practices stopped taking appointments more than 24 hours ahead, ensuring that their statistics showed the government what it asked for, 100% of appointments were within 24 hours.  Did this improve things?  Of course not!  This is not what the government had intended, and not what the general population actually wanted.  Let’s face it, not all appointments are urgent.

So, whatever the change you want to make, put yourself in the shoes of the saboteur and see how you could break it.

I wonder if any MPs read this…

What could you do instead of relating performance and pay?

I guess that before I give you more of my thoughts on this, you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve.  If by relating performance to pay, you are trying to motivate your people to work harder, then you should first understand whether they’re driven by money!  If they are, and you can really measure their performance, then stop reading this post and carry on as you are!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Still reading?  Good!  What I’m about to say may be a little controversial, but bear with me.  Improving the performance of all of the individuals in your company might not improve the performance of the company!  You can have everyone working as hard and as they possibly could, using whatever means you can think of.  Unless they’re working together, all pulling in the right direction, then they may as well not bother.  Putting it that way, may make more sense to you.  W. Edwards Deming wrote in “Out of the Crisis” ‘A new book explains how to “Motivate your people to work at top speed!”  Beat horses and they will run faster – for a while.”  This book was first published in 1982, so it is still a surprise to me to still see performance and reward being used to “improve company performance”.

Instead of focussing on the performance of the people, I encourage you to look at what it is they actually do.  This might be uncomfortable for both you and them to start with, but if you can manage to convince them that you’re looking at what they do, to be able to see how you can help them to make their job easier or less frustrating, then you’ve taken the first step on the business improvement ladder.  More about that will appear in another post.

Back to the relationship between performance and reward.  If you already link performance to pay rises and bonus payments, you need to make some changes as soon as you can.  If your company pays bonuses based on performance, find a way of relating them to the performance of the company; larger organisations could split this down to the performance of business units, but this also has risks.  Whatever you do, make sure that the performance measures are seen to be fair.  The biggest risk is that business units may compete against each other, rather than working together for the good of the business.  Keep it simple, focus on the bottom line; the best-case-scenario is that everyone in the business receives the same bonus, either in percentage terms, or in monetary value.

What to do about the performance of individuals?  Use your Leaders to lead!  Train the leaders at all levels in the business to understand what leadership is, and how it differs from management. Give them the time to coach their teams.  Get the teams working together.  Creating the right environment, from the front-line to the boardroom, with the right leaders in place is the only way forward.

I’ll leave you with this thought.  If you take the time to look at the processes that operate in your business, and listen to the people involved in those processes, then you’re heading in the right direction to move your business forward.

Go on, take the first step!