The Young and the Clueless
Hell-bent on sabotaging your company? Then promote your brightest young professionals into your most demanding roles—especially when they threaten to leave unless you fast-track them. Nonsense, you say? Hardly.
Promoting talented young managers too quickly prevents them from developing key emotional competencies—such as negotiating with peers, regulating negative emotions during crises, and building support for change—skills that come only with time and experience.
Worse, many “young and clueless” managers lack patience, openness, and empathy—qualities more vital than raw intellect at top leadership levels, where business issues grow more complex and stakes are notoriously high.
Aggressive and insensitive, fast-tracked managers may pooh-pooh relationships with peers and subordinates—not realizing they need those connections to conquer problems. Issues become crises, defeating managers. Your company, customers, and employees all pay the price.
The solution? Delay promotions so managers can mature emotionally. This isn’t easy. You must balance confrontation and support, patience and urgency—and risk losing your finest. But premature promoting carries far greater risks.
The Idea in Practice
1. Deepen 360-degree feedback. Provide broad and deep feedback to help managers see themselves as others do—a must for building self-awareness. Give them verbatim written responses to open-ended questions from a wide variety of peers and subordinates, not just you. Managers may discount your views as biased or uninformed. Allow time for reflection and follow-up conversations. Example:
Though his business acumen was unmatched in his company, a brilliant 42-year-old VP neglected peer relationships, earning a reputation as detached. Corporate wondered if he could inspire staff to support important new strategies. After an in-depth 360-degree review, he began strengthening interpersonal connections.
2. Interrupt the ascent. To help managers learn to move others’ hearts and minds, give them special assignments outside their typical career path. They’ll have to master negotiation and influence skills, rather than relying on rank for authority. Example:
A quick-tempered regional sales director wasn’t ready for promotion to VP. Her boss persuaded her to lead a year-long team investigating cross-selling opportunities. She learned to use persuasion to win other division managers’ support, building solid relationships. Now a VP, she’s perceived as a well-connected manager who can negotiate on her team’s behalf.
3. Act on your commitment. If you’ve warned managers that promotion depends on emotional competencies, follow through. These competencies are not optional. Example:
A conflict-averse senior VP managed his own group well but avoided collaborative situations, where the potential for conflict increased. Exploring external alliances, the firm considered collaboration vital. The CEO demoted him, temporarily pulling him from the succession plan. Assigned to a cross-functional team project, he learned to handle disputes and build consensus. He’s back on track.
4. Institutionalize personal development. Make it clear that success at your company hinges on emotional competence. Example:
One CEO articulated corporate values emphasizing continual learning, including asking for help. He created incentives encouraging such behaviors and built emotional-skills requirements into the firm’s succession planning. Known for learning and growing, the firm attracts and retains talented young executives.
5. Cultivate informal networks. Encourage managers to forge mentoring relationships outside the usual hierarchy. They’ll encounter diverse leadership styles and viewpoints, gain opportunities for reflection—and mature emotionally.
In many ways, 36-year-old Charles Armstrong is a natural leader. He’s brilliant, creative, energetic, aggressive—a strategic and financial genius. He’s risen quickly through the ranks due to his keen business instincts and proven ability to deliver bottom-line results, at times jumping from one organization to another to leapfrog through the hierarchy. But now his current job is on the line. A division president at an international consumer products company, he’s just uncovered a major production setback on a heavily promoted new product. Thousands of orders have been delayed, customers are furious, and the company’s stock price has plummeted since the news went public.
Worse, the crisis was utterly preventable. Had Armstrong understood the value of building relationships with his peers and had his subordinates found him approachable, he might have been able to appreciate the cross-functional challenges of developing this particular product. He might have learned of the potential delay months earlier instead of at the eleventh hour. He could have postponed a national advertising campaign and set expectations with investors. He might have even found a way to solve the problems and launch the product on time. But despite his ability to dazzle his superiors with talent and intellect, Armstrong is widely viewed by his peers and subordinates as self-promoting, intolerant, and remote. Perhaps worse, he’s only half aware of how others perceive him, and to the extent he does know, he’s not terribly concerned. These relationships are not a priority for him. Like so many other talented young managers, Armstrong lacks the emotional competencies that would enable him to work more effectively as part of a team. And now his bosses seem to have unwittingly undermined his career, having promoted him too quickly, before he could develop the relationship skills he needs.
What happened with Charles Armstrong is an increasingly common phenomenon. In the past ten years, we’ve met dozens of managers who have fallen victim to a harmful mix of their own ambition and their bosses’ willingness to overlook a lack of people skills. (As with all the examples in these pages, we’ve changed Armstrong’s name and other identifying features to protect our clients’ identities.) Indeed, most executives seek out smart, aggressive people, paying more attention to their accomplishments than to their emotional maturity. What’s more, they know that their strongest performers have options—if they don’t get the job they want at one company, they’re bound to get it somewhere else. Why risk losing them to a competitor by delaying a promotion?
Most executives seek out smart, aggressive people, paying more attention to their accomplishments than to their emotional maturity.
The answer is that promoting them can be just as risky. Putting these unseasoned managers into positions of authority too quickly robs them of the opportunity to develop the emotional competencies that come with time and experience—competencies like the ability to negotiate with peers, regulate their emotions in times of crisis, or win support for change. Bosses may be delighted with such managers’ intelligence and passion—and may even see younger versions of themselves—but peers and subordinates are more likely to see them as arrogant and inconsiderate, or, at the very least, aloof. And therein lies the problem. At some point in a young manager’s career, usually at the vice president level, raw talent and determined ambition become less important than the ability to influence and persuade. And unless senior executives appreciate this fact and make emotional competence a top priority, these high-potential managers will continue to fail, often at significant cost to the company.
Research has shown that the higher a manager rises in the ranks, the more important soft leadership skills are to his success.1 Our colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership have found that about a third of senior executives derail or plateau at some point, most often due to an emotional deficit such as the inability to build a team or regulate their own emotions in times of stress. And in our combined 55 years of coaching and teaching, we’ve seen firsthand how a young manager risks his career when he fails to develop emotional competencies. But the problem isn’t youth per se. The problem is a lack of emotional maturity, which doesn’t come easily or automatically and isn’t something you learn from a book. It’s one thing to understand the importance of relationships at an intellectual level and to learn techniques like active listening; it’s another matter entirely to develop a full range of interpersonal competencies like patience, openness, and empathy. Emotional maturity involves a fundamental shift in self-awareness and behavior, and that change requires practice, diligence, and time.
Armstrong’s boss admits that he may have promoted the young manager too soon: “I was just like Charles when I was his age, but I was a director, not a division president. It’s easier to make mistakes and learn when you aren’t in such a big chair. I want him to succeed, and I think he could make a great CEO one day, but sometimes he puts me at risk. He’s just too sure of himself to listen.” And so, in many cases, executives do their employees and the company a service by delaying the promotion of a young manager and giving him the chance to develop his interpersonal skills. Interrupting the manager’s ascent long enough to round out his experience will usually yield a much more effective and stable leader.
This article will look at five strategies for boosting emotional competencies and redirecting managers who are paying a price for damaged or nonexistent relationships. The strategies aren’t terribly complicated, but implementing them and getting people to change their entrenched behaviors can be very difficult. Many of these managers are accustomed to receiving accolades, and it often isn’t easy for them to hear—or act on—difficult messages. You may have to satisfy yourself with small victories and accept occasional slipups. But perhaps the greatest challenge is having the discipline to resist the charm of the young and the clueless—to refrain from promoting them before they are ready and to stay the course even if they threaten to quit.
With its questionnaires and standardized rating scales, 360-degree feedback as it is traditionally implemented may not be sufficiently specific or detailed to get the attention of inexperienced managers who excel at bottom-line measures but struggle with more subtle relationship challenges. These managers will benefit from a deeper and more thorough process that includes time for reflection and follow-up conversations. That means, for example, Interviewing a wider range of the manager’s peers and subordinates and giving her the opportunity to read verbatim responses to open-ended questions. Such detailed and extensive feedback can help a person see herself more as others do, a must for the young manager lacking the self-awareness to understand where she’s falling short.
We witnessed this lack of self-awareness in Bill Miller, a 42-year-old vice president at a software company—an environment where technical ability is highly prized. Miller had gone far on pure intellect, but he never fully appreciated his own strengths. So year after year, in assignment after assignment, he worked doubly hard at learning the complexities of the business, neglecting his relationships with his colleagues as an unintended consequence. His coworkers considered his smarts and business acumen among the finest in the company, but they found him unapproachable and detached. As a result, top management questioned his ability to lead the type of strategic change that would require motivating staff at all levels. Not until Miller went through an in-depth 360-degree developmental review was he able to accept that he no longer needed to prove his intelligence—that he could relax in that respect and instead work on strengthening his personal connections. After months of working hard to cultivate stronger relationships with his employees, Miller began to notice that he felt more included in chance social encounters like hallway conversations.
Art Grainger, a 35-year-old senior manager at a cement and concrete company, was generally considered a champion by his direct reports. He was also known for becoming defensive whenever his peers or superiors questioned or even discussed his unit’s performance. Through 360-degree reviews, he discovered that while everyone saw him as committed, results-oriented, and technically brilliant, they also saw him as overly protective, claiming he resisted any action or decision that might affect his department. Even his employees felt that he kept them isolated from the rest of the company, having said he reviewed all memos between departments, didn’t invite people from other parts of the company to his department’s meetings, and openly criticized other managers. Only when Grainger heard that his staff agreed with what his bosses had been telling him for years did he concede that he needed to change. Since then, he has come to see members of other departments as potential allies and has tried to redefine his team to include people from across the company.
It’s worth noting that many of these smart young managers aren’t used to hearing criticism. Consequently, they may discount negative feedback, either because the comments don’t mesh with what they’ve heard in previous conversations or because their egos are so strong. Or they may conclude that they can “fix” the problem right away—after all, they’ve been able to fix most problems they’ve encountered in the past. But developing emotional competencies requires practice and ongoing personal interactions. The good news is that if you succeed in convincing them that these issues are career threatening, they may apply the same zeal to their emotional development that they bring to their other projects. And that’s why 360-degree feedback is so valuable: When it comes from multiple sources and is ongoing, it’s difficult to ignore.
When people are continually promoted within their areas of expertise, they don’t have to stray far from their comfort zones, so they seldom need to ask for help, especially if they’re good problem solvers. Accordingly, they may become overly independent and fail to cultivate relationships with people who could be useful to them in the future. What’s more, they may rely on the authority that comes with rank rather than learning how to influence people. A command-and-control mentality may work in certain situations, particularly in lower to middle management, but it’s usually insufficient in more senior positions, when peer relationships are critical and success depends more on the ability to move hearts and minds than on the ability to develop business solutions.
We sometimes counsel our clients to broaden young managers’ skills by assigning them to cross-functional roles outside their expected career paths. This is distinct from traditional job rotation, which has employees spending time in different functional areas to enhance and broaden their knowledge of the business. Rather, the manager is assigned a role in which he doesn’t have much direct authority. This will help him focus on developing other skills like negotiation and influencing peers.
Consider the case of Sheila McIntyre, a regional sales director at a technology company. McIntyre had been promoted quickly into the managerial ranks because she consistently outsold her colleagues month after month. In her early thirties, she began angling for another promotion—this time, to vice president—but her boss, Ron Meyer, didn’t think she was ready. Meyer felt that McIntyre had a quick temper and little patience for people whom she perceived as less visionary. So he put the promotion on hold, despite McIntyre’s stellar performance, and created a yearlong special assignment for her—heading a team investigating cross-selling opportunities. To persuade her to take the job, he not only explained that it would help McIntyre broaden her skills but promised a significant financial reward if she succeeded, also hinting that the hoped-for promotion would follow. It was a stretch for McIntyre. She had to use her underdeveloped powers of persuasion to win support from managers in other divisions. But in the end, her team presented a brilliant cross-selling strategy, which the company implemented over the following year. More important, she developed solid relationships with a number of influential people throughout the organization and learned a lot about the value of others’ insights and experiences. McIntyre was eventually promoted to vice president, and to Meyer’s satisfaction, her new reports now see her not just as a superstar salesperson but as a well-connected manager who can negotiate on their behalf.
Such cross-functional assignments—with no clear authority or obvious ties to a career path—can be a tough sell. It’s not easy to convince young managers that these assignments are valuable, nor is it easy to help them extract relevant knowledge. If the managers feel marginalized, they may not stick around. Remember Bill Miller, the vice president who had neglected his emotional skills in his zeal to learn the business? While he was successful in some of his early informal attempts to build relationships, he was confused and demoralized when his boss, Jerry Schulman, gave him a special assignment to lead a task force reviewing internal processes. Miller had expected a promotion, and the new job didn’t feel “real.” Schulman made the mistake of not telling Miller that he saw the job as an ideal networking opportunity, so Miller began to question his future at the company. A few months into the new job, Miller gave his notice. He seized an opportunity—a step up—at an arch-rival, taking a tremendous amount of talent and institutional knowledge with him. Had Schulman shared his reasoning with Miller, he might have retained one of his most valuable players—one who had already seen the importance of developing his emotional competence and had begun to make progress.
One of the reasons employees get stuck in the pattern we’ve described is that their bosses point out deficits in emotional competencies but don’t follow through. They either neglect to articulate the consequences of continuing the destructive behavior or make empty threats but proceed with a promotion anyway. The hard-charging young executive can only conclude that these competencies are optional.
A cautionary tale comes from Mitchell Geller who, at 29, was on the verge of being named partner at a law firm. He had alienated many of his peers and subordinates over the years through his arrogance, a shortcoming duly noted on his yearly performance reviews, yet his keen legal mind had won him promotion after promotion. With Geller’s review approaching, his boss, Larry Snow, pointed to heavy attrition among the up-and-coming lawyers who worked for Geller and warned him that further advancement would be contingent on a change in personal style. Geller didn’t take the feedback to heart—he was confident that he’d get by, as he always had, on sheer talent. And true to form, Snow didn’t stick to his guns. The promotion came through even though Geller’s behavior hadn’t changed. Two weeks later, Geller, by then a partner responsible for managing client relationships, led meetings with two key accounts. Afterward, the first client approached Snow and asked him to sit in on future meetings. Then the second client withdrew his business altogether, complaining that Geller had refused to listen to alternative points of view.
Contrast Geller’s experience with that of 39-year-old Barry Kessler, a senior vice president at an insurance company. For years, Kessler had been heir apparent to the CEO due to his strong financial skills and vast knowledge of the business—that is, until John Mason, his boss and the current CEO, began to question the wisdom of promoting him.
While Kessler managed his own group exceptionally well, he avoided collaboration with other units, which was particularly important as the company began looking for new growth opportunities, including potential alliances with other organizations. The problem wasn’t that Kessler was hostile, it was that he was passively disengaged—a flaw that hadn’t seemed as important when he was responsible only for his own group. In coaching Kessler, we learned that he was extremely averse to conflict and that he avoided situations where he couldn’t be the decision maker. His aversions sharply limited his ability to work with peers.
It’s not unusual for a star performer to be promoted into higher management before he’s ready. Yes, he may be exceptionally smart and talented, but he may also lack essential people skills. Rather than denying him the promotion altogether, his boss might do well to delay it—and use that time to help develop the candidate’s emotional competencies. Here’s how.
Deepen 360-Degree Feedback. Go beyond the usual set of questionnaires that make up the traditional 360-degree-feedback process. Interview a wide variety of the manager’s peers and subordinates and let him read verbatim responses to open-ended performance questions.
Interrupt the Ascent. Help the inexperienced manager get beyond a command-and-control mentality by pushing him to develop his negotiation and persuasion skills. Instead of promoting him, give him cross-functional assignments where he can’t rely on rank to influence people.
Act On Your Commitment. Don’t give the inexperienced manager the impression that emotional competencies are optional. Hold him accountable for his interpersonal skills, in some cases taking a tough stance by demoting him or denying him a promotion, but with the promise that changed behaviors will ultimately be rewarded.
Institutionalize Personal Development. Weave interpersonal goals into the fabric of the organization and make emotional competence a performance measure. Also work to institute formal development programs that teach leadership skills and facilitate self-awareness, reflection, and opportunities to practice new emotional competencies.
Cultivate Informal Networks. Encourage the manager to develop informal learning partnerships with peers and mentors in order to expose him to different leadership styles and perspectives. This will provide him with honest and ongoing feedback and continual opportunities to learn.
Mason sent a strong signal, not only to Kessler but to others in the organization, when he essentially demoted Kessler by taking away some of his responsibilities and temporarily pulling him from the succession plan. To give Kessler an opportunity to develop the skills he lacked, Mason asked him to lead a cross-functional team dedicated to finding strategic opportunities for growth. Success would require Kessler to devote more time to developing his interpersonal skills. He had no authority over the other team members, so he had to work through disputes and help the team arrive at a consensus. Two years later, Kessler reports that he is more comfortable with conflict and feedback, and he’s worked his way back into the succession plan.
By the way, it’s counterproductive to hold managers to a certain standard of behavior without showing that the same standard applies to everyone, right up to top management. In many cases, that means acknowledging your own development goals, which isn’t easy. One CEO we worked with, Joe Simons, came to realize during 360-degree feedback and peer coaching that his personal style was interfering with his subordinates’ growth. Simons had declared innovation a corporate priority, yet his fear of failure led him to micromanage his employees, stifling their creativity. To stop this pattern and express his new-found commitment to improving his relationship skills, he revealed his personal goals—to seek advice more regularly and to communicate more openly—to his direct reports. He promised to change specific behaviors and asked for the team’s feedback and support in this process. Going public with these goals was tough for Simons, a private person raised on traditional command-and-control leadership. Admitting that he needed to change some behaviors felt dangerously weak to him, especially given that the company was going through a difficult time and employees were looking to him for assurance, but his actions made his new priorities clear to employees.
Simons’s candor won people’s trust and respect, and over the course of many months, others in the company began to reflect more openly on their own emotional skills and engage in similar processes of personal development. Not only did his relationships with his direct reports improve, but Simons became a catalyst and model for others as well. He told us of an encounter with Gwen Marshall, the company’s CFO and one of Simons’s direct reports. Marshall was concerned about a new hire who wasn’t coming up to speed as quickly as she had hoped—he was asking lots of questions and, she felt, not taking enough initiative. She had just snapped at him at the close of a meeting, and he’d looked surprised and angry. In speaking to Simons about the incident, however, she acknowledged that her impatience was perhaps unfair. He was, after all, new to the job. What’s more, the nature of finance demanded precise thinking and a thorough knowledge of the business. Marshall ended the conversation by saying she would apologize to the new employee. Simons was surprised at Marshall’s comments—he was used to seeing her simply blow off steam and move on to the next task. But possibly due to Simons’s example, she had become more attuned to the importance of her own emotional competence. Such reflection has become a habit among Simons’s team—a change that has enhanced personal relationships and increased the team’s overall performance.
One of the most effective ways to build managers’ emotional competencies is to weave interpersonal goals into the fabric of the organization, where everyone is expected to demonstrate a specific set of emotional skills and where criteria for promotion include behaviors as well as technical ability. A built-in process will make it easier to uncover potential problems early and reduce the chances that people identified as needing personal development will feel singled out or unfairly held back. Employees will know exactly what’s expected of them and what it takes to advance in their careers.
Here’s a case in which institutionalizing personal development was extremely effective: Mark Jones is an executive who was tapped for the CEO job at a major manufacturing company on the condition that he engage a coach because of his reputation for being too blunt and aggressive. A yearlong coaching relationship helped Jones understand the pitfalls associated with his style, and he decided that others could benefit from arriving at such an understanding far earlier in their careers. To that end, he launched several major initiatives to shape the company culture in such a way that personal and professional learning were not only encouraged but expected.
First, he articulated a new set of corporate values and practices that were based on meeting business objectives and developing top-notch leadership skills. One of the values was “Dare to be transparent,” which meant that all employees, especially those in senior leadership roles, were expected to be open about their weaknesses, ask for help, and offer honest, constructive feedback to their peers. Knowing that it would be necessary to create incentives and rewards for these new behaviors, Jones took an active role in the review and personal-development goals of the company’s top 100 executives, and he mandated that all employees’ performance plans incorporate specific actions related to developing their own emotional competencies. Jones also made emotional skills a key qualification in the search for a successor—a requirement that many organizations pay lip service to. Many of them often overvalue raw intellect and depth of knowledge, largely because of the war for talent, which has resulted in a singular focus on hiring and retaining the best and brightest regardless of their emotional competence. Finally, Jones created a new position, corporate learning officer; he and the CLO partnered with a nearby university to create a learning institute where corporate executives could teach in and attend leadership programs. Jones himself is a frequent lecturer and participant in the various courses.
Through all these actions, Jones has made it clear that employees need to make continual learning and emotional development a priority. He’s also emphasized that everyone from the CEO on down is expected to set goals for improving personal skills. Since implementing the program, he is finding it easier to attract and retain talented young executives—indeed, his organization has evolved from a recruiter’s nightmare to a magnet for young talent. It is becoming known as a place where emerging leaders can find real opportunities to learn and grow.
We worked with another company where the senior management team committed to developing the emotional competencies of the company’s leaders. The team first provided extensive education on coaching to the HR department, which in turn supervised a program whereby top managers coached their younger and more inexperienced colleagues. The goal was to have both the experienced and inexperienced benefit: The junior managers provided feedback on the senior people’s coaching skills, and the senior people helped foster emotional competencies in their less-experienced colleagues.
The results were encouraging. Wes Burke, an otherwise high-performing manager, had recently been struggling to meet his business targets. After spending time with Burke and conferring with his subordinates and peers, his coach (internal to the organization) came to believe that, in his zest to achieve his goals, Burke was unable to slow down and listen to other people’s ideas. Burke wasn’t a boor: He had taken courses in communication and knew how to fake listening behaviors such as nodding his head and giving verbal acknowledgments, but he was often distracted and not really paying attention. He never accepted this feedback until one day, while he was walking purposefully through the large operations plant he managed, a floor supervisor stopped him to discuss his ideas for solving an ongoing production problem. Burke flipped on his active-listening mode. After uttering a few acknowledgments and saying, “Thanks, let’s talk more about that,” he moved on, leaving the supervisor feeling frustrated and at a loss for how to capture his boss’s interest. As it happened, Burke’s coach was watching. He pulled the young manager aside and said, “You didn’t hear a word Karl just said. You weren’t really listening.” Burke admitted as much to himself and his coach. He then apologized to Karl, much to the supervisor’s surprise. Keeping this incident in mind helped Burke remember the importance of his working relationships. His coach had also helped him realize that he shouldn’t have assumed his sheer will and drive would somehow motivate his employees. Burke had been wearing people down, physically and psychologically. A year later, Burke’s operation was hitting its targets, an accomplishment he partially attributes to the one-on-one coaching he received.
While institutionalized programs to build emotional competencies are critical, some managers will benefit more from an informal network of relationships that fall outside the company hierarchy. Mentoring, for example, can help both junior and senior managers further their emotional development through a new type of relationship. And when the mentoring experience is a positive one, it often acts as a springboard to a rich variety of relationships with others throughout the organization. In particular, it gives junior managers a chance to experience different leadership styles and exposes them to diverse viewpoints.
Sonia Greene, a 32-year-old manager at a consulting firm, was hoping to be promoted to principal, but she hadn’t raised the issue with her boss because she assumed he didn’t think she was ready, and she didn’t want to create tension. She was a talented consultant with strong client relationships, but her internal relationships were weak due to a combination of shyness, an independent nature, and a distaste for conflict, which inhibited her from asking for feedback. When her company launched a mentoring program, Greene signed up, and through a series of lengthy conversations with Jessica Burnham, a partner at the firm, she developed new insights about her strengths and weaknesses. The support of an established player such as Burnham helped Greene become more confident and honest in her development discussions with her boss, who hadn’t been aware that Greene was willing to receive and act on feedback. Today, Greene is armed with a precise understanding of what she needs to work on and is well on her way to being promoted. What’s more, her relationship with Burnham has prompted her to seek out other connections, including a peer group of up-and-coming managers who meet monthly to share experiences and offer advice to one another.
Peer networking is beneficial to even the most top-level executives. And the relationships needn’t be confined within organizational boundaries. Joe Simons, a CEO we mentioned earlier, wanted to continue his own personal development, so he cultivated a relationship with another executive he’d met through our program. The two men have stayed in touch through regular e-mails and phone calls, keeping their discussions confidential so they can feel free to share even the most private concerns. They also get together periodically to discuss their goals for personal development. Both have found these meetings invaluable, noting that their work relationships have continued to improve and that having a trustworthy confidant has helped each avoid relapsing into old habits during times of stress.• • •
Delaying a promotion can be difficult given the steadfast ambitions of the young executive and the hectic pace of organizational life, which makes personal learning seem like an extravagance. It requires a delicate balance of honesty and support, of patience and goading. It means going against the norm of promoting people almost exclusively on smarts, talent, and business results. It also means contending with the disappointment of an esteemed subordinate.
But taking the time to build people’s emotional competencies isn’t an extravagance; it’s critical to developing effective leaders. Give in to the temptation to promote your finest before they’re ready, and you’re left with executives who may thrive on change and demonstrate excellent coping and survival skills but who lack the self-awareness, empathy, and social abilities required to foster and nurture those strengths in others. MBA programs and management books can’t teach young executives everything they need to know about people skills. Indeed, there’s no substitute for experience, reflection, feedback, and, above all, practice.
1. In his HBR articles “What Makes a Leader?” (November–December 1998) and “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance” (with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, December 2001), Daniel Goleman makes the case that emotional competence is the crucial driver of a leader’s success.
Kerry A. Bunker is manager of the Awareness Program for Executive Excellence at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Kathy E. Kram is a professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management.
Sharon Ting is manager of the Awareness Program for Executive Excellence at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The Young and the Clueless
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