Fit for duty does not equal fit to lead


Police dogs are amazing at what they do but would they be as successful without the leadership of their partners?

Just because you’re good at your job, it does not mean that you will be a good leader. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see organizations make when it comes to their human resources. While I believe strongly in succession planning and employee development, growth does not always equate to promotion into a leadership position.

To determine how to best recognize and reward your employees, speak with them about their career aspirations, build upon their strengths and move them into positions and environments where they’ll thrive. Don’t automatically assume that the next step for every star performer is management.

I’ve seen far too many organizations lose fantastic employees because they were forced into management positions they could not handle. Going from a staff position to managing a group of your peers is not an easy thing for anyone, let alone someone who does not have the right set of skills to take this on. Just because someone can manage a task, it does not mean they can manage people.

Here are some questions to ponder before promoting an employee(s) into a leadership position(s):

  1. Is management even what they want to do? Forget for a second if they would even be right for the job. If they have no passion for a leadership position and you force them into one, you’ve defeated the purpose of recognizing and rewarding them.
  2. Are they qualified? Will this be a good fit? When I ask these questions, the response I often get is, “Well, if I don’t push them to take on a leadership position, I’ll never know if they’re a good fit or not.” However, people fail to realize that leaders often don’t carry titles. The people you should look to when filling leadership positions are those who are already leading your teams informally. You may have intelligent and hard workers on your team but who do they look to for direction, support, guidance, feedback and decisions?
  3. Is there another way to promote them? Promotion does not always mean taking on a management position and growth does not always happen through upward movement. If you have an outstanding employee who is not fit to lead, you may consider creating another promotional opportunity for that person. What about a new job with new or more responsibilities and meaningful benefits?
  4. How would the team feel if you promoted this person? It doesn’t just matter how the employee feels; don’t forget about the team you’re asking this employee to lead. I have met a lot of employees who are well-respected by their peers for their knowledge but despised for their lack of people skills. If you promote someone in this situation, you’re not just letting that person down but you’re letting the entire team down.

So, consider the implications of promoting employees into leadership positions before actually doing it. I would love to hear your lessons learned when promoting the wrong employee. How have you avoided using promotion to management as the only source of growth?


6 thoughts on “Fit for duty does not equal fit to lead

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  5. One of my hard lessons in management was promoting the wrong person to a leadership position. While technically outstanding, he simply didn’t have the interest in people to be an effective leader. The hard lesson to learn is that the one’s you usually lose are not the bad leaders, but the really good people who have to work for him. Finally, if you don’t invest time in them, they might still be unsuccessful because learning leadership is a continual growth process and requires a committed mentor. I love the saying “Train them so they are qualified to leave; treat them well so they won’t”.


    • Ken, thanks so much for sharing your story! You call out an important reminder that the implications are vast and include a whole team of great employees who you may lose because of a bad leader. These are hard lessons for organizations to learn.


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