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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil

The Risks of Promoting the “Best” Person for the Job

Being good at one’s job does not necessarily translate to being a good manager. In healthcare, for instance, the best nurses and technicians do not necessarily make the best leaders. The same holds true for nearly every profession. That said, great employees certainly have the potential to become great leaders – they simply need the right preparation.

The risks of internal promotions

Let’s look at the issue through the lens of healthcare, though the concept will apply to several industries. When a time-sensitive need arises to fill a management position, the quickest route is often to promote the best nurse or technician in the department. While promotion from within has several benefits, it can also produce unintended consequences:

  1. By removing the best technician from the team – without a plan for replacement – we have weakened the team as a whole.

  2. Without an accompanying plan to prepare the new manager for their new role, we could easily set them up to fail, thus doing the overall enterprise more harm than good.

To be clear, I advocate for promoting internally. It boosts morale and rewards high performance with the opportunity for advancement. However, filling a supervisory position should be done with as much preparation as possible – especially at the entry-level. Hiring for the C-suite is more cut-and-dried: candidates have a verified track record of leadership in other positions.

In the case of an entry-level management position, this is often the candidate’s first real experience with management. We know that they are great at the job they have now, which is essential, but we cannot truly predict their ability to lead.

How to minimize risk

So, how can we combat these risks? We can take several steps to prepare for this situation in advance:

  • Keep Human Resources and operations on the lookout. We know future leaders when we see them. They are competent and organized, take initiative, and manage stressful situations gracefully. They receive constructive criticism well, and they often “color outside the lines” to better the organization. HR and operational leaders should always be on the lookout for these rising stars.

  • Provide stepping stones to success. Let potential leaders know that they have been identified, and invite them to give input into their own preparation for a new role. Give them special projects that can stretch their abilities without overwhelming them.

  • Talk about the future in 1:1s. Supervisors should regularly discuss the candidate’s future aspirations and what it will take to achieve those aspirations, in evaluations and one-on-one meetings. I’ll point out that many supervisors and managers are not fully prepared to have this discussion, and may require development of their own.

  • Build personalized development plans. Part of achieving those aspirations involves putting a plan in place to help them further develop management skills. These plans should not only address areas of improvement, but also build on existing strengths. There are a myriad of assessment tools that can help in this regard.

  • Orient new managers to their new positions. Shortly before or after they have entered a new role, treat their onboarding as you would for any other, providing them with an introduction to the policies, procedures, and management processes that best apply to their position.

Set future leaders up for success

Nurses and technicians are the backbone of any healthcare organization. They have the skills that will get the work of service done. They are the first to be in contact clinically with the patient. As a result, they can make or break the relationship between the patient and the institution.

Many exceptional nurses and technicians can also potentially be exceptional leaders, but they need to be given the right education and preparation. Those with the highest potential for leadership should be proactively identified and mentored, not simply thrown into a new position. Otherwise, they and their team will be at risk.

Ultimately, leadership starts from the top. When executives are committed to professional development, they can build a competent pipeline of future leaders, rather than scrambling for an expedient choice whenever a new opening arises. An executive coach can help executives build that pipeline by fostering one’s ability to identify strong potential for leadership, both in oneself and in one’s team.

My approach to executive coaching combines decades of leadership experience in and out of the healthcare field with internationally certified training, to help current and potential leaders work toward achieving their highest personal and professional aspirations. To learn how I might help you, simply reach out.

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