Pitfalls of Promoting Leaders From Within

  • January 7, 2017
  • Blog

Sometimes, it works well to hire from within the ranks. But far too often I see companies promoting internally because of a) pressure or b) convenience. And, unfortunately, the rock star employee will not always turn into the super star leader. When the pressure to fill a leadership vacancy turns into a choice between the best performer and the longest tenured without any regard for innate leadership skills; you’ve set yourself (and that new leader) up for failure.

Just because an employee has mastered their craft and delivers exceptional performance does not automatically morph them into possessing the skills to lead others to do the same.

I have witnessed management making this mistake my entire career from small companies to Fortune 500 organizations, not excluding myself.

I remember consulting with a client on a reorg strategy and working through selection criteria of a lead position. I was surprised (but not shocked) to see the two finalists were front-line employees that clearly lacked leade
rship skill.

When conferring about the decision; this is what I heard:

“The team won’t accept somebody from the outside who doesn’t know what we do. We have no other choice but to hire from within.”

So the decision was made to pass on a shiny new leader in order to not upset the apple cart. The company promoted from within in spite of the lack of skill. In this specific situation, hiring from within was a costly mistake.

There are times when going outside the company is the right choice when the position to be filled needs leadership ability more than familiarity.

If you hire right, a dynamic leaders’ talents are transferable and they will learn your business and apply it simultaneously with leading people to succeed.

Be cautious that you are not promoting from within solely based on:

  • It takes too long to train someone from the outside
  • It’s more expensive to hire externally
  • It would create discontent from current tenured staff
  • A reward for good performance

The expense, frustration and potential damage you can do by promoting prematurely can be significantly more costly than getting it right the first time.

When you look around and see no apparent leader; look beyond.