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How to destroy the career of your number 2 man, without even meaning to.

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

We often take competent, capable, sincere individuals and assign them to do things or take up responsibilities without preparing them for the task?

As a consequence we land up harming both the organisation and the confidence of the individual concerned.

This is the story of how we accidentally hurt Derek, our number 2 team member without even meaning to when we promoted him to top slot.

When Derek's boss the Works Manager resigned, we had to fill up the position fast. So we promoted Derek our no 2 man to replace him.

Our World Class mission goals placed high demands on productivity, quality, cost effectiveness and continuous improvement from our team and leadership.

We had no doubts about Derek's ability to meet our mutually agreed expectations and targets. Alas it was not to be. Six months after his promotion, a frazzled looking Derek came to see me. He handed me his resignation letter was resigning and requested to be relieved from his job at the earliest.

I felt confused, angry and frustrated. I always viewed the departure of any close member of our team as a personal and organisational tragedy.

What? Why? I barraged Derek with questions.

He responded that, 'he could not handle the pressure'.

Neither concern, outrage nor emotional blackmail worked in convincing Derek to stay.

A week later we formally accepted his resignation.

We always conduct an exit interview, whenever an employee leaves the organisation. The interaction helped strengthened our human resources policies.

At the interview, a visibly angry Derek stunned me by saying, " It is all your fault. I never wanted to leave but I have to escape or I will go mad. I was unprepared for this job, you should have given me time and trained me before giving me the promotion. I was happy until you promoted me. The money and power tempted me. I can't handle the pressure of the responsibility. The pressure of the top position and fear of failure is killing me."

Grudgingly I had to accept that Derek was right, it was mainly my failure not his. We over-promoted a good man and give him responsibilities greater than he could handle. He would have performed well had we groomed him for the new job but we had failed.

We were all sorry to see Derek leave. At a huge cost we learnt the vitality of 'succession planning'.

Caught in routine like many organisations and leaders we had failed to prepare people for assuming both higher and wider responsibilities. We filled up vacancies from available staff simply because they were conveniently available and the requirement was almost always urgent.

People are always eager for more authority and benefits often jump at the opportunity for a promotion. Sometimes we get lucky, often the promotion becomes an embarrassing and expensive disaster for both the individual and the organisation.

Every setback presents an opportunity to learn and improve. We began investing in succession planning. This I shall cover in my next article, 'How to preserve the career of your number 2 team member'.


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