The Least Unqualified Person

A bunch of years ago I was managing a small training team within a much larger company. One of my team members accepted another position with the company in a different division. That left me with a position to fill, one in which there were no obvious internal candidates.

The person running the division I was in came to me with a “suggestion” on who could fill the position. The problem was he was completely unqualified for the position. When I pointed that out I was asked if anyone in the company was qualified for the position and my answer was “not that I’m aware of.” 

He replied, “so what’s the difference?” Just move “my guy” into the spot. When I pointed out that “his guy” was likely the least qualified of all the unqualified people he was okay with it. He said something along the lines of “since whoever we put in the role will likely not be qualified it might as well be his guy.” 

Luckily cooler, also likely smarter, heads above him prevailed and we found someone substantially more qualified to take the position. 

But how did we get to a place where putting a unqualified person in an important position was even considered?

We got there because I came up woefully short in a key responsibility of leadership. I had not been developing, looking or even considering who would fill the positions I managed if any of the people occupying them left, for whatever reason. I was like the vast majority of managers; I didn’t think much about a position until I had to fill it and that lack of forethought was expensive.

Waiting for a position to open before developing people to move up in your organization can be, and usually is, a very costly mistake. Effective leaders are always thinking ahead. They consider the “what ifs” at every level of their organizations.

We saw the benefit of having good “what if” strategies when the pandemic started. I don’t know how many organizations were fully prepared for that. I do know the ones who had thought out and prepared for the unexpected were clearly better off. 

Think about the key people in your organization. Do you realize that any of them, for a variety of reasons, could be gone tomorrow? What would you do then? You NEED to know and you’ll be a whole lot better off if you know before it happens. 

I asked about the key people in your organization because if you don’t have a succession plan for them it’s very unlikely you have one for anyone else in your organization. That will come back to bite you in places you don’t want to be bit. 

Have you identified the next generation of leaders in your organization? Do you have a plan in place to develop them. I mean a real plan. A couple of canned Leadership training courses a year won’t get it done. 

You need a well thought out, consistent, long-range plan. If you don’t always have people in your developmental pipeline then one day you’ll end up having a discussion about who is the least unqualified person to move up in your organization. 

Trust me on this…you won’t enjoy that conversation.

On a completely different subject…I’m trying something new over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day,  people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing the kind of things I tweet and blog about. But the best part is I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. Give it a try if you’re so inclined, I can’t promise it will last for a long time but I can promise the content will be helpful as long as it does.

8 thoughts on “The Least Unqualified Person

  1. This is a great example of something I’m finding myself saying increasingly more to employees and managers, and anyone who will listen, “Find your replacement” to fill the voids before they’re there. Someone promoted, transferring, retiring should have already groomed 2-4 potential replacement candidates. Heck, even if you quit or were fired, there should be at least 2 people who were molded to take over the empty position. Another huge deficiency is found in micro enterprises and the reality of the CEO exit being the end of the company. Thanks for sharing this Steve!

    1. I absolutely agree with you. Unfortunately too many people who should be developing their replacements or next generation of leaders are afraid to because they believe it makes them vulnerable. They don’t understand that developing people makes them invaluable to their organizations.

      1. Exactly. I know of people who feared other people taking their job or being promoted over them, rather than seeing how they could be promoted and position someone to take their old role. Fear is an interesting opponent.

        I think the mindset will only change when senior leaders identify the need to empower workers to see and operate from this position of strength, rather than in the current state of lack. Some people need more than permission, they need to be actively encouraged by those they see with the “power” to promote, etc.

  2. I was encouraged as a classroom aide to become a teacher. Then encouraged as a teacher to be an administrator. As an administrator I encouraged para-professionals to consider teaching. After COVID I have been encouraging recent high school graduates to be aides and monitors. This has succeeded in three recent HS graduates to go back to school to be teachers. Always encourage others to move forward and out of their “current “ comfort zone.

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