Currently Not Promotableby Gregory Stebbins, EdD

Jimmie was angry and hurt after his meeting with the EVP of the division he worked for. This was the third time he was passed over for a promotion and this time it went to a person much younger and less qualified (at least according to Jimmie). What the EVP told him, really stung, “Jimmie, you’re currently not promotable.”

In fairness to the company, Jimmie had been given consistent feedback that he was only half a leader. While his technical and operational skills were exceptional, they only made up half of the qualifications needed for the higher-level position that Jimmie was pursuing. At the close of the meeting, the EVP suggested speaking with June, who was the V.P. of Talent Development.

At their first of several meetings June suggested . . .

Jimmie, your interpersonal skills, what the company refers as social intelligence, are lacking and holding you back from any further promotion. You have a reasonable sense of yourself. You just don’t seem to be able to apply this in face-to-face situations, which causes us to question your potential as a leader within the company.

Essentially, we break social intelligence into five critical areas. These include your ability to:

  1. Read your environment and act appropriately within that environment
  2. Express empathy for those with whom you interact on a consistent basis
  3. Demonstrate sensitivity to the motivations of the people you manage
  4. Establish positive interactions with the people with whom you work on a regular basis
  5. Communicate effectively with people whose “communication style” may be different from yours

Let’s look at number 3, “Demonstrating sensitivity to the motivations of the people you manage.” We measure engagement within the company by asking all employees if the products and services and the way we operate the company contribute to fulfilling their sense of purpose or meaning in their life. While that’s a big question, we can easily determine their level of engagement. Each employee aligns with one of three categories:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a deep connection the values, beliefs and attitudes of our company.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially ‘getting by.’ They minimally participate and there’s little energy for what they do.
  • Actively Disengaged employees consciously sabotage the efforts of others.

Engagement is both collaborative and consensual. It’s the leader’s job to ensure that their direct reports are engaged. Unfortunately, your 360 feedback results indicate that others frequently see you as the “boss from hell” who is better at commanding than leading.

It’s the company’s job to provide each manager with resources and create recognition and reward programs. These are the functional aspects of creating engagement within the organization. Engagement starts to break down in the critical area where you have the most direct influence—that is creating and enhancing the work community. The vast majority of your direct reports align with the Not Engaged category.

Your employees are desperate to feel like they belong within the organization. Jimmie, you’re a smart guy whose technical and operational competencies are top notch. You are somehow using these competencies as a weapon to intimidate and belittle the people who report to you. You also haven’t helped them to create the linkage between the mission of the company and what each person is looking to accomplish in her or his own life.

Usually engagement begins to happens when a leader takes the time to just have a conversation with an employee. The feedback we receive about you is that you are always barking orders. Conversations need to be handled with sensitivity and genuine caring. You need to be fully present with an employee. Thinking about your next call or the text message you just received indicates that the person you’re speaking with has lesser value.

As a leader within this company, you need to BE the example. Being requires authenticity and transparency of both your strengths and your opportunities for improvement. Our employees want to know that you’re human, not superman.

Let’s schedule another meeting where we can discuss some of the other five factors. OK?


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About the Author:

Dr. Stebbins has over three decades of experience coaching emerging and senior leaders in being more people savvy. A leader’s awareness, commitment, integrity and authenticity are directly shaped by their internal landscape (the habits of thought, emotion, imagination and action).