What do Jekyll and Hyde have to do with getting promoted?

Even if you haven’t read the book or watched any of the movie adaptations, you’ve probably encountered the characters: the scientist Dr. Jekyll and his evil alter ego Mr. Hyde.

When I was a young corporate sprout writing software code for banks and insurance companies (a looong time ago!), I was convinced that promotion into management transformed otherwise rational people into evil political players. The transformation of Jekyll into Hyde had nothing on what seemed to happen when someone stepped out of the ranks of individual contribution and into management.

Nonetheless, eventually that day came when I was promoted into management. And even as I celebrated my accomplishment, I wondered … would I too be transformed into a cold-hearted, budget-worshipping, politics-playing managerial Hyde equivalent?

I’m glad to say I wasn’t. (At least, my team claimed to love working for me — and delivered top-notch results.)

But this Jekyll-to-Hyde concern of the individual contributor is understandable, because all too often people in management and leadership seem to make decisions that go against rational sense and, in some cases, against common decency and fairness.

What I learned in that transition — aside from the fact that there’s a tremendous amount to learn! — is that being in management requires a significantly new perspective on the world. One quickly discovers that strategic thinking is different (to say the least) from tactical implementation, and that often what seems to be tactically sensible is strategically wrong.

Furthermore, while it’s sadly true that all too many managers and leaders aren’t as good as they should be at communicating what’s going on, there are also times when useful information can’t be shared, for a whole host of reasons, and one has to ask one’s team to take action based on trust, rather than on facts.

Management also has the lovely task of facing reality in ways that individual contributors don’t have to. A budget may be a bit of a fictional creation, but cash flow is a hard cold reality. The high-performing individual who wants a raise, a better laptop, or a ticket to a professional conference only knows that they’ve been working hard and, in management lingo, have “exceeded expectations.” The manager faced with budget (cash flow) constraints may not sound all that credible when they have to say “no,” especially when funds are obviously going in other directions.

I could go on with examples, but I’m guessing you see what I mean.

Meanwhile, did you know that roughly 60% of new managers fail in their first year?

Promotions within the ranks of individual team players are usually given when someone has already demonstrated most of the skills and knowledge needed for the next position. But management promotions don’t work that way.

As an individual contributor, while there may be some leadership involved (and certainly leadership of self is required), there’s relatively little opportunity to demonstrate — or acquire! — the skills needed for management success.

Adding to the problem, fledgling managers are usually left to figure things out on their own: sink or swim. They can’t go to their former peers for support, and they’re generally too intimidated by their new peers (who just yesterday were their bosses) to ask for help.

The negative impact of a failing manager goes far beyond that manager. The saying “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers” is true, and the team with a struggling manager inevitably underperforms. Then, of course, there’s the issue of what to do with the manager who fails. Do you demote them, fire them, or what? And how do you deal with the fallout of those actions, including the issues they’ve created in their struggle — failing projects and disengaged teams, to name just a few?

So what’s the solution?

The answer lies investing in a combination of education (teaching knowledge and skills) and coaching (how to implement the knowledge and skills in real-life situations). Neither alone is sufficient to truly develop a new manager’s leadership potential. Education is essential because it helps create the shift in perspective from tactical to strategic, and provides the skills necessary for effective communication (among other things). Coaching is essential because without guidance, it’s extraordinarily hard to translate conceptual knowledge into action, especially in the heat of the moment.

Organizations that make this investment in their managers and leaders are less common than one might expect, given the obviousness of the problem — and of the solution. Especially since the positive, bottom-line impact is significant, in terms of employee engagement, productivity, and — related to what I consider to be the biggest challenge facing today’s organizations — leadership bench strength.