How to stop promoting bad managers

I remember once considering an overseas assignment to avoid a terrible boss in HR. It turns out, I am not alone. According to Gallup’s most recent report, State of the American Manager, about one-half of employees choose to leave their company because of a bad manager.

In my case, the lousy manager dominated meetings, couldn’t set priorities,  was narcissistic, and wasn’t supportive. I learned that what mattered most to him was making him look good. He could be funny, charming, and provide compliments and financial rewards, but you had to figure out how to be successful on your own without stepping on his toes.

It was exhausting. As it turned out, I didn’t resign from the company, but I did arrange a transfer to a different business unit.

What makes for a good manager?

According to Gallup’s report, it is the following five talents:

  1. They motivate their employees
  2. They assert themselves to overcome obstacles
  3. They create a culture of accountability
  4. They are able to build trusting relationships
  5. They make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company

These managers place more emphasis on employee strengths than weaknesses and are great ambassadors for their brands.

Unfortunately, according to Gallup’s research, only 18 percent of managers have the talent and skills for their leadership roles.

Too bad, because bad managers cost the business real money. Gallup’s research also shows that companies that hire or develop managers with these skills enjoy the following excellent business outcomes:

  • 48 percent increase in profitability
  • 22 percent increase in productivity
  • 30 percent increase in employee engagement scores
  • 17 percent increase in customer engagement scores
  • 19 percent decrease in turnover

Gallup’s research and the research of others[i] show that too often companies promote great technical experts or individual performers into managerial roles without regard to the skills and behaviors necessary to be a great manager.

The thinking is like this, “Justin is a great technical problem solver, he will make a fantastic leader. Let’s promote him to manager.” Or, “Linda is a great sales representative. She turned around the Northwest territory. I believe she will make a great leader. Besides, if we don’t make her a sales director, we may lose her.”

In selecting managers, it is essential first to see who is successful and has the desire to lead. However, from there, it is important to also look for the following qualities (identified by researchers Rob Silzer and Allen H. Church[ii]):

Foundational Dimension. This dimension consists of two stable, consistent components. The first is Cognitive. That is, conceptional or strategic thinking and cognitive abilities, often measured as IQ.  Employees with high cognitive skills are often able to deal with complexity and ambiguity.  While it is essential to have a high IQ, having too high an IQ can be a detriment to business performance and innovation.

The second component is Personality, sometimes referred to as Emotional Intelligence. Employees who score high on this dimension have empathy, are usually very sociable, have excellent interpersonal skills, have learned to control their dominance in team meetings, and are emotionally stable. They also display resiliency in the face of set-back and failure.

Growth Dimensions. The ability of high performers to grow is critical to learning and being able to move into new industries and up the career ladder. The first of the two components is Learning. This includes an individual’s ongoing learning orientation, adaptability, and openness to feedback. If employees want to stay with the “tried and true” and are not able to adapt to new situations and be open to learning what they do not know—they are not high potential candidates.

The second component of the two is Motivation. First, do they want to be a leader? Some very skilled people do not want leadership roles, or they cannot take a current leadership role now due to family or personal reasons. Other qualities include drive, energy, achievement orientation, and career ambition.  In addition, great leaders and innovators need to be willing to take risks and are committed to achieving excellent results.

Career Dimension. These are the early indicators of later career skills and success. There are three components. The first is Leadership.  Have they learned to manage people, to set up operating and decision-making norms, to delegate effectively and to inspire and develop others? Have they learned how to influence their staffs, peers, and superiors? Can they challenge the status quo effectively and lead continual change?

Performance is the second component. Do they have a continued strong performance record in diverse situations? Can they manage turnarounds and growth opportunities? In different industries and geographical regions?

The third component is Knowledge and Values. Are they technically component in one or more fields? Do they have the values and norms to lead today?  Are they trustworthy? Do they respect people of the other sex? Can they work effectively with team members from different backgrounds?

The next time you need to promote or hire a manager, remember that outstanding performance as a technical expert, sales rep, or individual contributor is not a predictor of success for management. Neither is the person who speaks first and dominates the meeting.

Instead, be sure to put in place objective criteria such as those above to make your selection.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides hands-on support to improve recruiting and retention, cultures of innovation, and train agile leaders and teams. Overcome your obstacles to these issues by subscribing to his weekly blogs. Go to to subscribe. Watch for his book, Hack Recruiting, to be published soon.


[i] Rob Silzer and Allan H. Church, “The Pearls and Perils of Identifying Potential,” Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2 (2009), pp. 377-412.

[ii] Ibid.

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