Who Should You Promote Next? A Case Study

You have a recent job opening for a team leader and two interested internal candidates; who should you promote?

  • Mary is your top financial expert – her associates go to her when they are stuck for a solution and you wish you had 5 more just like her.
  • John knows finances as well as anybody – he’s a great team player and his associates trust and respect him and his work.

All other things are equal between Mary and John. Who should you promote as the new team leader?

In a traditional environment, Mary is usually the person that gets the promotion. Most traditional organizations still recruit based on technical knowledge and past performance, and put low value on soft skills / emotional intelligence… but this is changing. We’ve all heard about someone being promoted to their level of incompetence… and this may be one of those times.

In my opinion, the right candidate depends heavily on what Mary or John want out of their personal and professional lives… and what the company wants to invest in them.

If Mary Gets The Promotion

If Mary is motivated because:

  • She is looking to grow in the area of leadership and managing people… AND if the company is ready to invest in ongoing (ongoing is critical), Leadership training and coaching, then Mary may be right for the job… in time.

If this is the case I would suggest Mary’s training and coaching should have started long ago as part of a professional development plan. If Mary gets the job now she is going to be studying and growing for the next 6 months (at least). Her team will not have the hit-the-ground-running leader that it should from an internal hire, and the company will not benefit from her significant financial expertise as they used to (she’ll be doing more ‘leading‘ and less ‘doing‘). The opportunity losses to the organization will be significant.

If Mary is motivated because:

  • She sees all her friends and peers climbing the corporate ladder and thinks success means moving up, then I’d say there are many ways to satisfy Mary’s needs while also keeping her from making a mistake by becoming a leader. The great risk is that if she is promoted without previous leadership skill or training, everyone including Mary may discover she’s not built for management. So, rather than be demoted Mary will quit to save face and go to one of your competitors. And you don’t want that to happen.

The added risk is that if John really did want the job and he has to work for Mary (someone who doesn’t know how to motivate and lead the team), this natural born leader may quit and go to one of your competitors out of frustration.

If John Gets The Promotion

John seems to have some of the natural emotional intelligence that translate well into being a great leader – skills like technical skill, trustworthiness, ability to communicate, respect and creativity. If John gets the promotion, he will still need leadership training and coaching. It’s likely that John is going to be able to motivate his team and that with some training, John could make the transition into an official and successful leadership position.

If Mary’s real need of peer-status is taken care of creativity, Mary will likely be very happy to also save her reputation as the brightest financial expert on the team.

Everyone Should Have A Professional Development Plan

As I was suggesting earlier, companies should want to get this figured out long before there is a vacancy, not only with Mary and John but with the whole team. The organization should be thinking about a professional development plan for each employee as well as what is best for the company, each individual and team.

By having open dialogue with employees about their needs, dreams and professional aspirations, the organization leaders can prepare a professional development plan that increases employee engagement, lowers turnover and increases profitability. The added beauty is that some of the best employee engagement motivators (like a need for recognition), are no or low cost.


Success for people and organizations is all about the leadership – promoting growth and development for themselves (the leaders), and all employees throughout their career. To drive employee commitment, engagement and therefore profitability and organizational success, it’s critical for leaders to always consider the potential of the people and the potential of the group.

Happy business development.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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