Dangerous leadership development issues arise when experienced leaders forget about the many new skills needed for recently-promoted leaders to succeed. This problem stems from a mental blindspot known as the curse of knowledge. That’s the key take-away message of this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show, which describes how to prevent leadership development failures.
Video: “How to Prevent Leadership Development Failures”
Podcast: “How to Prevent Leadership Development Failures”
Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast
- Here’s the article on How to Prevent Leadership Development Failures
- The book Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters is available here
- You are welcome to register for the free Wise Decision Maker Course
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of “The Wise Decision Maker Show”, where you improve your skills in making the wisest and most profitable decisions. Today, we will talk about promotions and leadership development and why they often fail, especially promotions without appropriate leadership development.
Now, unfortunately, it’s so common, tragically common for people to be promoted to what’s called their “level of incompetence”. That is a principle known as the Peter Principle, where basically people are promoted because they did a good job in their previous position and there’s not nearly sufficient consideration given to how well they will do in their new position. A classic case in point, the best salespeople are promoted to the sales manager position, and the skills that it takes to do sales are often not the best skills for the sales manager position. Same thing in, let’s say, software engineering. So, a software engineer who is great at actually doing software engineering is often bad at being the team lead or the manager of engineers because the skills required to be a team lead or a manager of software engineers are not the same skills that are required to actually do good software engineering.
Now, that’s true because new roles require a different set of skills, and there’s often no leadership development given to people who are promoted from one level to the next level, who are promoted up. There is a different set of skills needed especially in the supervisory position. People who are promoted from a technical role to a supervisory role or from one type of supervisory role to a different type of supervisory role – let’s say one where they needed to manage staff to one where they now need to look at the strategic picture – those are a different set of skills, and people don’t think about this set of skills.
This combination of poor promotion practices and lack of leadership development – I mean these people are often not given appropriate leadership development – it’s really bad. It really prevents their ability to succeed. It really hurts them. It screws up the whole promotion process for the company, for the organization, for whatever organization you are working for, a non-profit organization. And that comes from a dangerous judgement error, a cognitive bias known as the “Curse of Knowledge”.
If you’ve been following “The Wise Decision Maker Show” for a while, you know that we as human beings have a number of problems with how our brains work, unfortunately, called cognitive biases. These are dangerous judgment errors that cause us to make really bad decisions in modern-day contemporary professional settings. The Curse of Knowledge is one of these unfortunate cognitive biases. Once we acquire a set of skills, such as managing others, we forget what it is like to not have these skills. It feels very comfortable, it feels very right, and it feels like people who don’t have these skills are weird and dumb. That is how it feels to us. It’s not true, but that’s how it feels.
Same thing with knowledge. When we acquire knowledge, it actually takes us a long time but we forget how difficult it is to acquire knowledge. Right now, you probably think it’s very easy to drive a car. It’s surprisingly difficult to drive a car. I remember I failed my first driving test, and it wasn’t an easy thing to learn. But now it seems as easy as riding a bicycle, which also, as I remember, was not an easy thing. I remember scraping my knees so much when I was learning to ride a bicycle.
Same thing when you are promoted into a new role in the company or non-profit organization, you need to acquire a whole new set of skills, very often depending on the role. And unfortunately, the people who are your supervisors, whoever promoted you to that position, very frequently, usually it is the case, they don’t realize that a new set of skills are required. The Curse of Knowledge refers to us people who have knowledge. When you have knowledge, you are kind of cursed with forgetting how difficult it was to acquire that knowledge, to acquire those skills. And as a case in point, I will give you an example from my own consulting experience.
There was a northeast Department of Transportation which faced a serious Peter Principle – Curse of Knowledge challenge. Staff got promoted into a supervisory position based on a combination of seniority and prior performance in their previous roles. And so, that was not necessarily a very good indicator of how they would perform in a new senior role because the senior role, the supervisory role, often required a different set of skills or actually required a different set of skills. It was not something that was realized because people who got into a new position, people who actually made out and succeeded, they forgot how much they had to learn when they got into a new position, and they thought, “Well, the previous people did it. We did it. The new people will do it. So, let’s just keep it going.” That was a problem.
Now, there was a new HR director who was brought from outside into this Department of Transportation and, with his outside perspective, recognized the serious problem with this situation. She wasn’t able to fix the promotion practices, but at least she was able to look at the leadership development and try to address that lack of leadership development.
So, they brought in my company, Disaster Avoidance Experts, to consult on creating a leadership development program. What we did, we decided to do an opt-in pilot training program for supervisors who were newly promoted from the ranks. We went to people who were identified as supervisors who have succeeded in their promotion, who worked out. We talked to them, did focus groups and evaluated, what new set of skills did they have to develop? What new knowledge did they have to develop? And we identified 8 separate skill sets that they developed in their new positions compared to their old positions and, of course, along with the knowledge that came with these skill sets.
We created a training curriculum to convey this information to the newly promoted supervisors, along with a mentoring program for things that you can’t really train on – you have to convey them in the process of being mentored – where each new supervisor was paired with an existing supervisor who was there for over 5 years and had succeeded in that role.
As part of this, it’s very important whenever you do a leadership development program, to create a method of evaluating success. Actually whenever you do any intervention, it’s very important to measure your success because you can do a lot of training but if you don’t actually get anything as a result at the end of it, it isn’t going to help, right?
There was an existing way of performance evaluation, where supervisors got performance evaluations done every six months, and so that was already a good pre-existing measurement condition. We wanted them to meet or exceed expectations on these performance evaluations. Previously, as their baseline, about 63% of all promoted supervisors met this condition. That’s the baseline, 63% met or exceeded expectations, which is honestly not that great. You would want a higher rate of newly promoted supervisors meeting or exceeding expectations. So, that was our goal. That was the baseline we wanted, more than 63%, which was the baseline.
The next set of promoted supervisors, there were 48 recently promoted supervisors. Twenty-one of them chose to join this opt-in training program. And out of them, a total of 17 of those who joined our opt-in mentoring and training program got a rating of meeting or exceeding expectations. That’s 83%. So, of course, 83% is quite a bit better than 63%. That’s a really big increase, a very noticeable clear increase, so much higher than the baseline.
There were 27 remaining supervisors who chose not to join the program that we created in leadership development with mentoring. Out of that 27, only 16 received a rating of meeting or exceeding expectations. That’s about 59% – so, that’s about the baseline. Baseline was 63%, so 59% is close enough. So, those were the people who didn’t join the program.
So, you can see very clearly that the program itself made a very significant difference to the supervisors being able to meet or exceed expectations, that it was actually effective and that proved what the HR director wanted to accomplish, which was to support the newly promoted supervisors in succeeding and addressing this Curse of Knowledge situation where they weren’t given appropriate leadership training.
Now, what I regret from that consulting engagement was that the very top leadership of the state Department of Transportation wasn’t really willing to address the Peter Principle at heart, that they were not willing to address the fact that the promotion came on the basis of evaluating only prior performance and seniority. So, that was a problem because the rational right thing to do would be to have promotions based on who can succeed, rather than who did the best job in their previous position. You want to look at who has the best skills that are appropriate to succeed in the new position.
Unfortunately, the union contract for that state Department of Transportation had promotion practices built into it based on seniority and past performance, and the top level leadership was not willing to address this problem, to renegotiate with the union and do what was actually best for the organization going forward. That’s unfortunate, but there is nothing I can do about that. At least, I can do something about the leadership training. So, the people who were promoted were more likely to succeed even though, honestly, not the best people were promoted.
So, that’s the Peter Principle and the Curse of Knowledge, and I hope this episode of “The Wise Decision Maker Show” helps you address that. There is much more information in the blog in the show notes, so check that out. There are a variety of other relevant blogs in the show notes. What do you think about this episode? Please leave your thoughts in a comment. I’d love to hear what you think about them. If you like this show, click Like and share it with your friends. And of course, subscribe to “The Wise Decision Maker Show” on whatever platform you are using to get this episode. Please leave a review on that platform as well. That would be great.
Make sure to follow us on social media. We have great stuff, Wise Decision Maker shows, and lots of other stuff on Disaster Avoidance Experts social media. To learn more about making the wisest and most profitable decisions, Decision Making 101, I strongly recommend that you subscribe for my free Wise Decision Maker Course. It’s 8 video-based modules, conveys the basics of wise decision making using cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics, so the area of our expertise. So, it’s at disasteravoidanceexperts.com/subscribe. It’s also linked in the notes for you to check out.
For more in-depth information, if you want to do a deep dive, and I strongly recommend that you do, check out my book on this topic, “Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make The Best Decisions And Avoid Business Disasters”.
I hope to see you on the next episode of “The Wise Decision Maker Show”. As always, I’m wishing you the wisest and most profitable decisions.
Bio: An internationally-recognized thought leader known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he is best known for Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019), The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020), and Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (Changemakers Books, 2020). He published over 550 articles and gave more than 450 interviews to prominent venues such as Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, CBS News, Time, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fast Company, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts. It also stems from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his free Wise Decision Maker Course.