This has been a recurring observation, repeated by different individuals in different circles, in person and online: So many people who are in positions of authority were put there for reasons other than their leadership ability.
Good at this, but not necessarily at that
They may have been named to the job because they were very good at what they did: A managing partner of a law firm who was a first-rate trial lawyer. A nurse supervisor who was an excellent ER nurse. A dean who was an inspiring professor. A foreperson who was a highly productive shop floor worker. A coach who was a standout player.
Unfortunately, what they did well often has little to do with the skill set needed in their new leadership positions. Many of these folks crash and burn, or simply bumble along, because they were ill-prepared for the job ahead and didn’t quite understand the human side of their new responsibilities.
No threat to the puppet masters
Others may have been promoted because the folks who put them there didn’t want a good leader. Instead, they sought a feckless crony, puppet, or weakling they knew they could control. As writer William Deresiewicz said in his superb speech about leaders and leadership to West Point cadets:
Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole.
Leadership 101 training
For those who have the personal qualities to be effective leaders but lack the background and experience, leadership and management training programs emphasizing the so-called “soft skills” would help sensitize them to the human aspects of their jobs.
In fact, it’s arguable that basic management training should be part of all professional degree programs, such as medicine, education, law, and business. This initial exposure can be augmented by continuing education offerings for those elevated to leadership positions.
Nevertheless, if someone plainly lacks the personal qualities to be a good leader (e.g., the crony, puppet, or weakling), then all the training in the world likely won’t make much of a difference. That person will fold like an accordion when it’s time to make a tough, principled decision.
In any event, until promotions to leadership and management positions are based upon, duh, leadership and management skills, too many organizations will fall well short of reaching their potential and building an engaged, high-morale workforce.