Promotions are a tricky thing. I’ve gotten some right and others horribly wrong. The people who grab our attention are the ones that are excelling at their current job. The tendency is to think that if someone is doing great at their job they’d be even better at a new job with greater responsibility, pressure, and leadership requirements. Unfortunately, many leaders fail to take the time to develop people into who they need to be so that they’re prepared for a promotion. The end result is that many great performers get significantly derailed and some even lose their jobs altogether when they’re thrust into roles that they weren’t prepared to fill. Leaders cannot be developed in a microwave. You need a good, old-fashioned crock pot.

In 2004, I was promoted to lead a team in Atlanta that was losing large amounts of cash each month. In fact, at the end of the year they found themselves losing about $1mm in net income. It was bad. I took over the reins from a great guy. He wasn’t lazy, dumb, or out of touch. Instead, he was kind, smart, and knew all the right answers. So how could he lead a location for four years that was annually losing that much money? Good question. His problem was that he was never equipped to lead at that level. You see, he was good at serving clients and growing business at his original location. Everyone loved him. The opportunity arose for him to get promoted and his boss moved him from Minneapolis to Atlanta. Unfortunately, he was never taught how to lead a location, manage people, or make the decisions needed to win at that level. He was good at his original job. Conversely, I was fortunate to have a boss who spent years developing me. He taught me how to think like a leader and run a great branch.

I wish that would have taught me what I needed to know when I promoted someone, but it didn’t. I promoted a few different people over the next seven years only to end up moving them back into their original roles. Promoting the wrong person happens when the pressure to fill an organizational gap is greater than a high performing employee’s preparation for the next level. As leaders, we know deep down that they’re not ready. The problem is that we think we either can develop them on the fly or that they’ll just figure it out.

Promoting the wrong person happens when the pressure to fill an organizational gap is greater than a high performing employee’s preparation for the next level.

A promotion should never catch your team off guard, if you’ve used a thoughtful and thorough developmental process. Investing in your people must become a normal and natural part of your organization. Here are three simple steps to start developing the people around you.

Establish a Plan

What is required of a successful leader in your organization? What do those, who have done well, have in common? You should begin compiling a list of actions and skill sets. For example, let’s say that every year, location leaders are required to do a business plan. Start by having some of your key influencers help with the business plan. Over time, they should be able to knock them out without a problem. So make a list and then build a schedule of how to develop your people.

Embrace the Jesus Model

This development style was best illustrated in Jesus’ ministry on earth. It’s simple and goes like this:

  1. I do
  2. I do, you watch
  3. I do you help
  4. You do I help
  5. You do I watch
  6. You do

Take the list you made in your plan and walk through the steps. This isn’t a one-week short cut. When done well, it’ll take some time.

Evaluate Influence

The people who are ready for the next level must have influence, and gauging it is important. People should gravitate toward them, and they should be serving those around them in meaningful ways. Remember, influence is earned, not given. Please do not try to give someone more influence because it will only backfire and the person will ultimately lose whatever influence they actually have. What you can do, though, is teach them how to earn it by doing things like serving, connecting, encouraging, appreciating, and inspiring others.

Influence is earned by serving, connecting, encouraging, appreciating, and inspiring others.

One of the best resources for developing people and building a strong, time-tested process is to get Dan Reiland’s book Amplified Leadership. As he says in the introduction, “(Dan’s process) puts the five leadership practices (Establish a Relationship, Engage a Follower, Embrace a Team Member, Coach an Apprentice, and Mentor a New Leader) into a progressive sequence, and it connects the desired results with the necessary skill sets.” Let’s keep this simple – get the book, follow the steps, and start developing the leaders you’ll need for the next leg of the journey.