By Ron Miles, PCC

With my experience across many industries and disciplines, I’m amazed at the commonality of specific events. One that is most prevalent deals with the selection of an individual for a managerial position. More times than not, the results are not good. Not only can it be a disaster, it is expensive to correct. While there are many contributing factors, let’s examine two that are the most prevalent.



Almost from day one Tim demonstrated an ability to “get things done.” He quickly advanced from completing simple assignments to completing extremely complex projects. As his experience grew so did his ability to make decisions. He became very proficient at identifying what needed to be done and successfully completing the task at hand.

In meetings Tim appeared to be a team player. While he was extremely talented, he didn’t seem to have that, “look at me” demeanor. With a few exceptions, he always seemed in control of his behavior. He exhibited a quiet confidence and had a strong belief in his technical skills and his ability to deliver results. While at times he was a little head strong and found it difficult to compromise, his projects were pretty much on schedule and on budget. He was “tagged” as high potential and had a bright future.



When it came time to fill the open Engineering Department Manager’s position, Tim was the leading candidate. His qualifications; strong technical skills, knowledge of the facility, a team player, gets along with upper management, and his ability to get things done. Based on these qualifications he was promoted to Manager of the Engineering Department.



And that’s when the story changed. Instead of continued success; turmoil, tension and discontent grew within the Engineering Department and with the other departments within the facility. What projects that did get out of Engineering were generally late and over budget. The irony is that,Tim hadn’t changed but his results did. To use the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. 



In evaluating Tim for this managerial position it’s not what was examined, but what was not. In general Tim was being evaluated on his individual skills and not for the requirements for being a manager. Tim was clearly technically competent. He was able to navigate within the team concept. While he was responsible for some major projects, he also did most the work himself. For the larger projects that included people assigned to work for him, because of his expertise and work ethic, he personally drove things to a successful completion. Most of his decisions were tactical in nature. He faced them head on and solved them as they presented themselves. These are all good traits and his performance was outstanding. But what else should have been considered? Let’s look at two.

Critical Thinking

While Tim continued to develop he hadn’t moved beyond tactical reasoning. His responsibilities to that point only dealt with short term issues that required short term solutions. Tim had not learned how to prioritize problems or to understand that not all problems need to be solved. He really hadn’t developed the ability to balance short and long term goals to find solutions that entailed more complex issues such as the needs of competing projects and limited capital funds. In reality, Tim was very good at what he did and either didn’t see a need to change or didn’t want to. Also the organization was benefiting from his performance, but fell short with his longterm development. Once Tim’s potential was recognized, the development should have started.

Managing/Leading People

While Tim clearly demonstrated his technical skills, what had he actually demonstrated in his ability to manage people? Had Tim been shown the “Bigger Picture” and given the opportunity demonstrate the ability to develop and complete strategic goals? To juggle managerial duties and direct a team to achieve results? Had Tim demonstrated the ability to deal with ambiguities, to deal with conflict, to find ways to compromise to achieve success? There are many more, but I think you get the point.



As you would expect, Tim eventually left the company.

I don’t want to imply that Tim would have made a successful manager, but as in so many real life cases, the Tim’s of the world simply have not acquired the necessary skills, but are promoted anyway. This actually happens pretty much as described and more often that you can imagine! While it should be obvious, it’s not. So what can you do? Two points:

  1. If you are looking for a manager, look for the demonstration of skills required to manage; not the skills to be a successful individual contributor.
  2. For those being looked at for advancement, put them in situations to develop their critical thinking, to work on longer term strategic issues, and to actually manage people.

If you are looking at becoming a “manager”, examine your skill set against the same criteria. Maybe some additional development is needed!