Stop putting Mediocre Managers into Leadership Roles

Yes, despite many people, industries and even recruiters still using leadership and management as interchangeable lingo, the fact is: 

Leadership IS different to Management. 

Leadership roles require a different or additional set of skills, thinking, and focus to that of someone managing a team, a program or project.

Sure, we have lots of highly skilled managers or senior staff out there with sought-after technical and industry specialist skills. They may be top of their field or reached the highest rank in that specific area, but the next rung on their career ladder is NOT automatically the CEO’s position or Director in the Executive Leadership Team. It's not a short step up; it’s a giant leap.

High IQ and technical ability will get you so far, but one thing I know for sure from my own experience, plus years of observing and coaching others: highly developed EQ is critical for those in lead roles.

Emotional intelligence [EQ] is what fuels and sustains the successful leader.

Most concerning, is when crucial EQ skills are noticeably missing from those already in leadership roles, and nothing is done about it. There’s too much of this happening. It’s ruining the reputation of whole industry sectors.

‘What has happened to our industry’ was the title of an article I recently read in a Local Government Journal, written by a well-respected, highly experienced leader. The concerns expressed mirror what I’ve also observed, as a preferred supplier of professional development services to the Local Government [LG] sector.

Stats mentioned in the article indicate:

  •       Numerous Crime and Corruption Commission investigations
  •       Unprecedented number of complaints to the state authority
  •       Australia wide increase in number of LG councils [or their employees] being dismissed [sacked] and/or prosecuted

Reading some of the public reports on investigations, just leaves me gob-smacked. How did the experienced professionals, the industry bodies, and the decision makers at the top, let this happen?

Now, my intention is not to add more heat on an industry or the professionals within, whose reputation is already coping a battering from media and their communities. I know many good people who are doing their best in less than optimal circumstances. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do have one big burning question?

Are we requiring and assessing developmental levels of EQ skills when recruiting candidates into lead roles? Especially CEO or Director positions?

Emotional Intelligence is not ‘a thing’ or a one sentence statement in a cover letter - [eg: ‘I am very self-aware’ …]. Nice, but that’s only step one. Emotional intelligence quotient – EQ refers to a range of competencies that take time and conscious effort to build strength in. Like muscles; you need to keep exercising, growing and maintaining your EQ levels, because that’s what drives your observable behaviours.

As a leader, your behaviours, your character is always on show. I wrote about that in a previous recent blog - Character Matters.

While we use the comprehensive SEIP – Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile modelwhich has 26 competencies in four key areas - self-awareness, self-management, situational awareness and relationship management; candidates going for lead roles are not going to have equally exceptional scores in all areas. But, there are some core ones that I believe are critically important.

Here’s my top three for CEOs:

INTEGRITY – a self-management skill … is one who demonstrates high standards of honesty, ethics, morals, and greater good reasoning. It’s about making the right choices for the right reasons. It should be a rock-solid character trait for those in lead roles. No exceptions.

INTENTIONALITY – also a self-management skill … is one who thinks and acts on purpose, with deliberate intent. Open, transparent, clear direction, decisions clearly aligned to both self values and organisational values [hopefully both are a good match].

INTERPERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS - situationally aware and builds relationships easily … one who is curious to understand and able to ‘join the dots’, has a genuine care factor for others and the community they serve, effectively communicates and builds rapport across all levels with all people.

Of course, there are other skills which may be a specific priority for the organisation to focus on right now. When choosing the leader, it’s important the decision makers get clear on what type of EQ skills are pivotal for leading the organisation through the next chapter. Don't throw out a broad net and see what it drags in.

Don’t settle for the ‘best of a bad bunch’. Or, the worst case I heard: ‘he was the third choice, but the first two declined the offer, so we had no other choice at the time.’

Rubbish. There are always choices. Go back out to the market. Be specific. Be clear on the mandatory attributes you are requiring.

So, what happens when it becomes clear that these skills are seriously lacking in the leader you’ve already chosen?

Well, some organisations hold on to them too long with detrimental consequences to internal culture and external reputation. And some are moved on quickly and quietly, but here in lies another problem. What I refer to as: rotation of the serial seat-warmers. 

It’s not OK for industry bodies and recruitment agencies to recommend poor performing CEOs to other councils for a similar lead role. It doesn’t fix the problem; rather, it compounds into an industry wide issue. And communities are sick of it ... and not stupid or blind. Communities are also more vocal on social media and aware of the avenues they can take to complain about what they see as 'wasting ratepayer's revenue'.

One more thing to be mindful of: the core motivation of a serial under-performer in lead roles on high wages, becomes self-preservation. When the inevitable questions and pushing upwards starts from others … integrity levels, intentionality for greater good purposes, and interpersonal effectiveness noticeably takes a deep dive.

Behaviours like hiding, blaming others, lies, dishonesty, collusion with the 'easily manipulated', corruption, and the insidious passive bullying of 'good people' – those who dare to question; are obvious signs of self-preservation focus. Sadly, I’ve seen this scenario played out way too often across all levels of government and other agencies.

It’s time this issue is addressed, for the greater good. For the reputation of your industry sectors. To ensure you are employers of choice; attracting and retaining good people – your future leaders. 

I strongly believe that demonstration of high level EQ competence is a ‘must have’ set of skills for all leaders; those we recruit into lead roles and importantly, those we are developing up as our future leaders.

Let’s stop accepting mediocre managers and raise the expectation bar. We need intentional leaders, with high integrity and interpersonal effectiveness.

Emotional Intelligence matters … authentic, genuine, ethical and engaging leaders are what our communities expect and are now loudly demanding.

Leadership matters.

Written by Jilinda Lee - recognised leadership coach and mentor for government sector leaders and managers, the Institute of Leaders and Managers, and champion partner of the Lean In global movement – encouraging and enabling more women to step up into lead roles.

Founder and Managing Director of Vital Leaders, Jilinda is a passionate presenter, thought leading commentator, and writer on all things leadership related. Vital Leaders mission is develop more dynamic, emotionally intelligent leaders. All Vital Leaders programs have embedded emotional intelligence development in their core frameworks. 

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