• Ansis Lipenitis

Problems with promoting experts into managerial positions [2 scenarios analyzed]

I want to talk about two fundamental, almost paradoxical problems related to promoting people. These are edge cases that don't have simple solutions after the problem has already taken place.

1. Some people resist and decline the opportunity to get promoted

That comes as a surprise to people who are used to seeing the world through managers, organizers, and leaders prism. I remember a conversation with one head of engineering at a cocktail party when he shared his embarrassment with such a situation - "We need to grow fast, we need more team leaders, but some of our developers, who could be excellent team leaders, don't want to be promoted. What to do?"

There can be at least two options:

  • One - the person can become a great leader but is afraid due to limiting beliefs and emotional blockages. In this case, becoming a manager can turn into a great personal growth opportunity for the person.

  • On the other hand, the person authentically knows that being a manager is not where he wants to be. Don't try to bend such person's opinion - even if you succeed initially, you will break him in the long run.

How to distinguish between those two options? By asking questions and listening not only to the answers but also to how it's being said and what is not being said at all. Pay attention to your intuition as well.

Limiting beliefs

Some signs of limiting beliefs in action:

  • When answering questions, your conversation partner becomes shy as a child - you even can sense the child in him;

  • Her responses contain "no, because" phrases continued by statements that are not universally and objectively true. You can also sense that they are even not authentic and subjectively valid for the person who's saying that. For example: "No, I don't want to be promoted, because power corrupts people." That is a popular example of a limiting belief that could be instilled by parents or school teachers, illustrated with well-known examples from politics and business, but still is not universally true, because there are also many different examples we all know. One great source of such examples can be found in Level 5 leaders case studies by Jim Collins in Good to Great.

Authentic self-knowledge

A good sign of authentic self-knowledge is a conversation that focuses on positives, rather than negatives. Instead of telling "I don't want, because..." the person would say "I love my job, this is what brings me joy" and "All my life I wanted to become an expert in this field, and I feel this is where I want to be."

If I were the manager of the first person, I would focus on gradually showing him the benefits of personal development via becoming a manager - how it can show me my blind spots and limiting beliefs and help to get rid of them to become a more authentic person.

In the second case, I would respect the employee's true calling and don't try to lead him astray from it.

2. Some want to and get promoted only to realize later that actually, they didn't want that

How come? I think the explanation is rather simple - one's ego wants to use the opportunity to grow bigger (I remember a comparison of some people being like walking balloons with hands and legs sticking out - that's the size of their ego, been there, done that myself). However, when the ego's goal is achieved, it never satisfies the ego itself, plus, the true self starts to claim it's opinion - that the previous role - that of a great specialist - was what gave the real joy and fulfillment.

That's a double edged sword - the ego wants to get the next dose of inflation (=the next promotion), but the true self wants to get back to the basics and do the job that gave daily satisfaction — a perfect storm recipe for a forever unsatisfied manager and... team under his leadership.

That brings us to a paradox: in some cases, someone, who's reluctant to become a manager, can turn out to be a better leader in the long run, compared to the person who's aiming to climb the career ladder by any costs. What it means is that we should be cautious when we see someone more focused on his career growth than on delivering value for those whom he is serving - first his team and second, other internal and external stakeholders and customers.

A good sign of a great leader is a humble spirit. Being humble does not mean being with low self-esteem. Vice versa - evident pride is the sign and bandage of low self-esteem. Other symptoms are bragging (both in conversations and in social media), not being able to take in criticism.

Warren Buffet has said:

"You're looking for three things, generally, in a person. Intelligence, energy, and integrity.

And if they don't have the last one, don't even bother with the first two."

In this case, very much depends on the mentor or teacher of the person. A senior and humble mentor with a kind heart can help the mentee grow in self-esteem and self-love and thus get rid of his pride and grow in integrity.

Another path is the path of a tragedy - the pride person usually often brings himself in a situation in life that breaks him. However, the price is high for those around him (also think of your team and company) and the outcome for the person can be twofold. In the best case scenario, he will emerge as a better person. In the worst case scenario... the (science fiction) history shows us one famous example of what happens when a person with pride issues gets into a power position and calls upon himself the penalty of the destiny - "tan tan tadann tan tadann" - welcome Darth Vader.

That all may sound very philosophical, so let's get back to the practical side:

  • Try to avoid promoting people with low self-esteem and pride issues. Also, people who are focused solely on their career development instead of serving others.

  • Try to pair such people with senior and kind mentors. Love is the cure for low self-esteem. And having the right mentor is one of the best leadership development methods for new managers.


After having read the draft of the article, my co-founder commented that it lacks an ending. I went to make coffee and think about the conclusion, and it came in the form of a memory of a quote, paraphrased from memory: aim to see in people who they can become, tell them that and treat them like that better future version of themselves. That will help them to flourish, to remove the layers of limiting beliefs and emotional blockages, and to become better versions of themselves indeed.

And, when you try to look into the future of your team members, you should feel if your plan to promote them will genuinely serve them in their development path to become a better human. If you feel that it will - then go for it.


Author: Ansis Lipenitis, Wiserstate CEO. Ansis is passionate for personal development and a fan of existential psychology. Wiserstate provides e-sessions with leadership coaches to help solve the challenges that we face in our work as managers.