Traits that made managers effective at the staff level, such as self-reliance, determination, and extreme confidence, often prove to be a potent mix at the supervisory level.
A recent study by Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis-based consultancy, found that 27 percent of leaders who are considered highpotential employees are also considered a high risk for demotion, dismissal, or performance below expectations. The study classified this volatile group as being a high risk for "derailment."
"I was surprised to see that high of a percentage," says David Peterson, the organization's senior vice president of coaching services.
The agency evaluated about 500 mid-level managers and surveyed their bosses about the managers' likelihood for promotion. One-fifth of the group was designated as a "high potential" for future success. Those earmarked for derailment were the 27 percent among the standouts who were most likely to fail after being promoted.
"Sometimes leaders don't learn the right lessons at lower levels," Peterson says. "They are used to getting results individually and may not know how to listen to a team. The rules of the game change, but nobody explains that to them. The message is, 'You're great, keep doing what you're doing.'"
Peterson points out that many of the so-called "derailers" were viewed as strong candidates for successful management, but because of the lack of coaching, feedback, and mentoring inside an organization, the once-promising candidates encounter trouble. Corrective action is only suggested when the manager stumbles.
He attributes some of the struggles of newly promoted managers to the elimination of management layers in organizations. High-performing individuals are often asked to take a big jump by managing even larger pools of employees.
Peterson is working with one client who works in the retail sector, a field with a typically flat management structure. The manager was promoted from a position supervising 15 people to the chief technology officer supervising 5,000 people.
"There's no place in the organization to manage 100 people," he says. "In the past you could go from managing 15 to 50 to 100 people," Peterson says. "It was easier to learn lessons," he says. "Now there are no intermediate steps."