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Don't Accept Your Next Leadership Appointment Without Reading This

Congratulations on being offered a promotion into, or along, your leadership path. It is always great to feel appreciated for our contributions to the organisation. Apart from the obvious salary jump, we will also have greater responsibilities, and can better help the organisation meet its objectives. Our actions will now amount to a greater impact on business results, and that is very electrifying. However, before you let the euphoria go to your head and accept an offer you may be better off rejecting, it pays to take heed of the Peter Principle, formulated by Laurence J. Peter, who said,

"Managers (leaders) are promoted to their point of incompetence."

What this means it that leaders who do a good job are often promoted until (s)he fails in his/her final appointment. Obviously, at this point, the promotions stop. This is the point of incompetence. In such cases, both the organisation and the leader regret the decision for the final promotion - the organisation for offering it, and the leader for accepting it. Sometimes, and if circumstances permit, the leader may be able to reclaim the previous job and return to the peak of competence. Other times, there might be a new (lower) position in a different department where (s)he can be posted to and start building afresh. Yet other times, and this is more often the case, the now-incompetent leader will leave the organisation, either voluntarily or involuntarily. And this leads to a brain drain for the company. After all, they have invested so much in this leader only to see him/her leave.

So the question of, "Should you take that promotion offer?" is not a trivial one. In this post, we share 15 critical questions that you can ask to clarify the situation, and ascertain if indeed, it is worth taking the offer up...

15 Critical Questions

In their book, "First-Time Leader", George Bradt and Gillian Davis share these 15 important questions that you should ask and get truthful answers to, before you decide to take up the offer or not. These deal with risks inherent in your decision, and are categorised as organisational risk, role risk and personal risk.

Mitigating organisational risk

Even if you have been working in that organisation for years, you should still ask these questions. It is even more important that you get these answered if you are being hired from outside....

1. What is the organisation's sustainable competitive advantage? 2. Is there any risk with the current customer base? 3. Are there any relationship risks with significant collaborators of the organisation? 4. Does the organisation have any capabilities for long term success? 5. Do competitors pose significant risks to the viability of the organisation? 6. Are there any external environmental conditions that will impact the viability of the organisation?

Some strategic thinkers in this forum will recognise that these are the 5 C's that some use to assess organisational risk. You too need to look at your potential employer with such strategic lens. After all, if there is a poorly defined customer base (or one that is fickle and transitory); if there is tension with suppliers (and if suppliers are not paid on time); if the company does not have any internal capabilities, either by way of technology, intellectual property, or state-of-the-art business model; if the competitive space is so crowded that there is no real competitive advantage - or that there are disruptive models coming up with new market entrants; and if the external environment, including regulatory frameworks, are conspiring against the organisation, this is NOT one that you might want to cast your lot with. And if this is YOUR company now, then you might well want to look around for alternatives since there might currently not be a long-term solution for you. But you could still find some value by facing the challenge head-on and implement strategies that can swing the ship around. Of course, this is not easy to implement with so many stakeholders in the fray, so always keep your options open.

Mitigating role risk

Now let's look at the next perspective of risk - the role. This impacts directly the way that you will executive your job, and there are many multi-layered elements and assumptions embedded here. It may not be easy to get all the answers, and it may entail you asking others in the department, the incumbent (if available), colleagues, and others that know about the role. Since this directly impacts you, you must pay special attention to these questions:

7. Did anyone have any concerns about this role, and if so, what was done to address them?

8. Why does the position exist? Why was the role created in the first place?

9. What are the objectives and outcomes of the role? What has been accomplished in the past? What were some of the issues going forward?

10. What is the impact of this role on the rest of the organisation? What kinds of interactions are expected with different stakeholders?

11. What are the specific responsibilities of this role, including decision-making authority and direct reports?

I know, these are multilayered; with questions within each question. It underscores the complexity of role risk in a leadership position, and if these are not adequately answered before you take on the job, you might just find yourself staring at a megalomaniacal micromanager who does not allow you to do what you are supposed to do, and all your leadership capabilities wither. This is certainly NOT a role for you!

Mitigating personal risk

Lastly, you should also look at the risks to yourself. Even if the position is great for one, it may well not be for another. Never look at what you stand to "lose" in monetary terms if you decide not to take it. Money is not the most important thing in job satisfaction. In fact, psychologists have already concluded that there is no link between salary and productivity. In fact, salary is only the contract between the organisation and the individual to start the relationship. Yet it will never be able to sustain that relationship, if other factors are not met. So what are some of these other considerations?

12. What specifically about me that led the organisation to offer me the job?

13. Is this the company and the role that can best capitalise on my strengths over time?

14. Will I look foward to coming to work three weeks, three months, or three years from now?

15. Will I fit into this culture?

What you need to do now

Don't ignore these questions. Of course you might not be able to see past the initial interview veil, and as you are painting the best picture of yourself to the organisation, they too are doing that to you. Even if you have been in the organisation for some time, you might have been shielded from the "politics" of management until you are formally inducted into that role, and then realise just how much the rot is. So while it is important to have these questions answered, truth be told, you will not be able to see it clearly until you actually get in on the role. Of course, if you can already ascertain that the risks are too high, then don't accept the offer. But if you cannot, then you need to put in place certain safeguards. If you are an external hire to the role, make use of your probation period wisely. This is not a time to be timid, to ease yourself into the role. No! In fact, you should press certain buttons hard and fast, so that you can ascertain the extent of your influence, your responsibilities, your fit. One of the major issues with joining a company is its culture, and even sub-cultures. Look at the company's values statements and see if they actually live up to them. Make sure you have clarified all those 15 questions early on in your probation period. And if the risks are still high towards the end of your probation, don't try to force-fit. You will not be able to fit in and you will be miserable. You will certainly NOT grow as a leader, and if this indeed is your first leadership role, you might have curtailed your leadership development long before you had the chance to be one.

Now, if you are currently in the organisation and have been given a promotion offer to a leadership position, try to negotiate a fallback plan. See if you can be given the role with a 6-month or even 12-month return policy so that if you don't find that it is the right position, you can return to your previous appointment (remember, that is the point of your greatest competence). If this cannot be agreed upon because your role cannot be left hanging, then you may negotiate to be placed in a different role if this does not pan out. What you don't want is to be "ambushed" to take on a role that may be ill-fitting for you, and you don't have any other recourse except to leave the organisation once you find that it was not really your cup of tea. Once you have secured that as part of your agreement, then try to stretch yourself in this position as much as you can so you will see what this role truly entails, and whether you still want to continue after your probation period.

It is always very exciting to receive a promotion offer, especially to a leadership role. However, technical competence might not translate into leadership competence, and you need to assess for yourself if indeed you are doing both you and the organisation a favour. And if not, then better to err on the side of caution and pass on the opportunity. If you are worth all the leadership salt in the world, another opportunity will present itself.

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