Five Mistakes Leaders Make When It Comes To Promoting High Potentials

Why it’s your fault that new leaders are failing.

There are two moments that stand out in the minds of experienced leaders. They are the first time they promoted someone into management and the day they had to tell that person, “Things aren’t working out.” But what is most troublesome to these leaders is the fact that they know, deep down inside; this person never had a chance.


Here are five common mistakes leaders make when it comes to promoting high potentials and what you can do to avoid disaster the next time around.

1. Too much rope: You had high hopes for this individual, as did everyone else. So you left her alone to do her thing. In retrospect, that was your first mistake. You gave her too much rope and she hung herself. Next time, let the rope out slowly until such time as this person has demonstrated they are ready to fly solo.

2. Failure to provide feedback: You figured she’d know exactly what you expected, even though you never clearly defined your expectations. Heck, your family members have figured this out. But you forgot to consider that unlike your wife, this person couldn’t read minds. In the future, outline the objectives and metrics and make it a point to check in weekly to ensure your new manager remains on track.

3. You let her wear her tiara: In your eyes, your high potential could do no wrong so you probably never noticed that when she was crowned, she immediately became overly demanding. You should have provided her with business etiquette lessons, before she ticked off the entire kingdom. Now it’s too late and you must ban her from the organization. Next time, set boundaries so your new leader doesn’t have the commoners hating her, before they have a chance to get to know her.

4. You never bothered to re-staff her position: Your shining star was so great that she could do the work of two people. That may be fine when your work is tactical. But how can someone successfully lead when they can’t lift their head up from their own desk long enough to engage with their people? Succession planning is your job. Have someone ready to fill the shoes that will be vacated, before you promote your next employee.

5.You managed her every move: You became the micromanager we all know and despise. She couldn’t breathe without your permission. It didn’t take long before her people realized who was really in control. Next time around, allow new leaders the time and space necessary to forge their own identity. Take a step back and allow them to succeed.


As leaders, it’s your job to identify and nurture high-potentials. Learn from your mistakes so that you never have to say, “things aren’t working out.”

© 2011 Human Resource Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the new book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey). Visit Roberta’s Blog or her Linked-in Group Suddenly in Charge! Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta’s monthly newsletter, HR Matters.

About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders.