By Michael Holland – 

I think one of the biggest mistakes seemingly well-intentioned organizations make is promoting someone to supervision/management and giving them just a single direct report.

The logic seems to be that by giving them a single employee to manage, they can learn how to lead with less risk and more time to get the hang of it.

But the reality is that these young leaders struggle desperately with how to become a leader and learn how to lead well.

Here are my problems with this approach:


The leader will have way too much time and energy focused on the “managing” of the single employee.  Laser focusing on the performance and activity enables and almost encourages micromanagement.

Lack of Comparison

Leading well is an outcome of experiences and wisdom gained.  Having to manage more than one employee provides a comparison of tactics, conversations, motivations, and styles from which the leader can begin to gain appreciation for the impacts of different approaches.

Lack of Relationships

The leader will miss out on learning how to guide/influence the relationships among people with a common purpose and goal.  It’s the dynamics within the team that provide the real fun in leadership.

Are We Still Peers?

Since usually the promotion was over one of their former peers, you have added enormous complexity into a relationship that previously was likely cordial and productive.  The new leader is a “working” leader and has similar tasks as before.

The two interact in much the same way and probably still sit in cubicles next to each other or will be depending on COVID protocols.

But something has changed and it can be quite awkward if not unhealthy.

Great, healthy organizations are good at identifying, building and deploying great people leaders.

They understand the breadth and depth of knowledge and experiences that are required to build effective people leadership behaviors.

They understand that growing leaders who lead well has a tremendous impact on the engagement and productivity of employees.

By the way, the only thing worse than throwing a young leader into a role with one direct report is not getting them trained-up in a good people leadership skills through a dynamic management training program.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Do you agree with the points made?  Grab a peer manager and discuss your thoughts.
  • Are there additional reasons why organizations promote someone to a role with a single direct report? Are these good reasons?
  • Rank the four points in order of the worst impact from your perspective – or experience.  Grab a peer manager and review your rankings and rationale.