05/17/2010 02:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Power of Promotion

Businesses are faced with decisions everyday about which employees should be selected to rise through the management ranks and become future leaders of the company. But defining the right promotion criteria isn't always as easy as it seems, because when companies focus on technical skills and other tangible performance factors, it is often at the exclusion of other important variables that are less concrete. For example, it is as common for companies to promote individuals who exceed sales goals or who stand out for their customer service skills as it is uncommon for employees to be promoted based on their ability to form and develop healthy relationships.

So how can businesses set the right markers to ensure that their promotion decisions pay off?

Well, by all means, employees need to have proven themselves as valuable contributors and properly skilled workers in order to be viable candidates for promotion. It's a good start. But in addition, they also need to be individuals who can handle the power that comes with management responsibility, which means they need to appreciate that they have the power to affect people's lives. Unfortunately, in practice, that "affect" is often not for the better, but for the worse. And, in turn, organizations then suffer the adverse effects of having the wrong people in leadership roles.

While employees are traditionally rewarded with promotion and compensation for a job well done retrospectively, rarely do organizations ask themselves how well a person is psychologically prepared to manage power going forward. So along with exceeding goals and meeting objectives, companies will be well served to evaluate whether promotion-worthy candidates are actually promotion-ready.

So in the end, who makes the best managers? Which individuals get the most out of their teams and produce the best business results for their employers?

Well for starters you need to find people who don't need power to feel important. Real leaders don't care who is "above" them enough to let it alter their standard of behavior. They treat everyone with the same degree of respect and responsiveness regardless of "level," and care more about output than fiefdoms. Driving results, creating synergies and building teams are paramount to them. In short, true leaders focus on others and not themselves.

It seems so logical that organizations should want people who give rather than take. But in reality, many managers who are promoted are mostly interested in their advancement irrespective of its relationship to those around them. The real opportunity here is to look through a different lens so that we begin to include individuals in the promotional pool who have the maturity to turn their responsibility for other people and their performances into something good, productive and positive.

So when it comes time to determine who deserves a promotion and who doesn't, look back not only at the past, but also forward into the future. Question whether an individual is apt to abuse the power entrusted to him/her, or if he/she will instead use it to support and inspire people.

Some Strategic Pointers:
• Identify those who have performed well in quantifiable terms.
• Collect feedback from people who interact with the candidates who are above, beneath and lateral to them organizationally ("360°").
• Interview the candidate to assess his/her perspective on assuming a role that manages others and what he/she hopes to get out of it.

Bottom line: The greatest power is having the ability to bring out the best in people and being able to motivate their highest levels of performance.

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