Why Were You Appointed to Leadership?


Why were you promoted to leadership? Do you even know? I asked a group of leaders this question recently and there was little clarity. In fact, they seemed surprised to be asked. There was no one who said they were appointed because they were skilful at leading, motivating and inspiring people to be high performers. That was one of the answers I was looking for.

So why are people appointed to leadership? I’ve come up with 8 reasons.

1. They work in a family business and all family members are automatically given a leadership position in the business.

2. They inherit leadership by taking over from a parent, usually a father.

3. They are highly skilled technically and the company’s business model has no other mechanism for acknowledging that except promotion into leadership.

4. The company doesn’t want to lose them.

5. They have excellent academic or advanced qualifications.

6. They have seniority in the company having been there many years.

7. They bring significant amounts of money into the organisation.

8. They need to meet a quota for their diversity goals.

All of these reasons are fraught with danger for the organisation, unless alongside the appointment there is leadership development provided and ideally on-going coaching or mentoring. Surprisingly this happens rarely. Without that leaders tend to believe that their primary role is to make sure the people under them do the work. While this is important, the skills the leader brings to that role will determine whether employees do it just good enough to keep their job, or whether they bring their whole selves to it and give 150%.

We are probably all aware of the on-going debate about the difference between leadership and management, that saw the division defined as managers managed tasks, and leaders led people. That may still be the case for certain industry sectors but in a time when large numbers of employees are knowledge workers that distinction loses power. Most organisations now want managers to also be leaders, to have skills to intrinsically motivate people, not rely on rewards and punishments, extrinsic motivators.

Dan Pink says that we need a new approach where people do things because they matter; they are interesting, they inspire them; they make them feel they are making a difference. Organisations need to provide autonomy, mastery and purpose if they want to get the best from their people.

This starts with leaders, but is a big shift in mindset for many organisations and its leaders.

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