Should you promote a technical expert internally OR do you bring someone trained in leadership and management? 

This is not an easy question to answer – but executives and business owners can’t assume the first option is the best… even though it seems right and easy.

Jake, a young man I know, completed his engineering degree, and found an entry level position in a company which creates customised machinery for mines and mills. He showed some promise at his drafting and machinery skills in his first few years and was promoted to Lead Designer two years later. 

Showing more promise as he hit is late 20s, the owner started delegating more responsibility and leadership to Jake, eventually offering him the role of GM over the multi-million-dollar company. Last year, Jake received a generous bonus as he lead the company into a very profitable season. But I forgot to mention something crucial to Jake’s success.

In the discussions and negotiation with the owner, Jake admitted that although he was comfortable managing engineers, he knew he lacked skills in leading all the staff, managing finances, HR, administration etc. Because of his confession the directors agreed to fund an MBA for Jake to complete while he took the role of GM. Earning this degree, Jake told me, made all the difference. In three years of studying while working, he learnt how to run, manage, and lead a business. The company thrived. Jake received a handsome bonus and a free MBA. Win-Win.

There is an expensive assumption too many business owners make when promoting internally. They assume someone’s ability to perform in one field of expertise will translate into every other area. But effective leadership and management skills are not inherent. Not all of them, anyway. They are learnt skills. And gaining these skills always cost someone. Too often, it costs the company in loss of staff and revenue due to mismanagement of people, clients, finances etc. We’ve all worked with people who were blindly promoted to management positions and are absolutely useless and under-skilled 🤦🏻‍♀️.

It’s not a good look on them, or the company, right?

To answer the opening question; like Jake’s boss did, you could promote the technical expert and OVER TIME train them into the management new role OR you can find someone non-technical, with leadership and management skills (possibly from outside the industry), who, OVER TIME gains industry insight, respect, and trust of staff.

But if you simply promote the expert without training and support, then you are gambling – because effective leadership and management is a technical skill too

Smart operators know that it is the company’s good and fair duty to ensure whoever is promoted receives all the leadership / management training and support they need. It doesn’t need to be an MBA, but it should be something!

– David Tensen