We often think that a leader who wasn’t promoted or selected for the next role must be missing something critical. If they are the best athlete, then the decision to elevate them should be obvious. When that doesn’t happen, we presume there is something we don’t know or can’t see that must be getting in the way.
While an imperfection or flaw does prevent some extraordinary leaders from rising, what isn’t as obvious to those on the outside is the leadership challenge ahead. Not every strong leader possesses the strengths or skills for every challenge.
A great operating leader is not the ideal choice when the upcoming challenge is a strategic one. In the same vein, a visionary leader brimming with charisma may not be the best match for a leadership role where confronting regulators or marketplace constraints is the obstacle the organization faces.
In the best organizations, leaders are chosen as much for the challenge ahead as for the superb skills they possess independent of that test. Not every great leader is the right choice for every challenge. Those making the selection must consider who would perform best given the pathway forward. The best decision-makers do just that.
So, the next time you find yourself scratching your head, wondering how in the world a leader you admire was bypassed for an inferior colleague or outsider, ask yourself if they were the right leader for the environment unfolding over the next few years.
It might be that instead of a flaw or inaccurate assessment, the decision-makers believed the minefield ahead would be better navigated by a leader with a nose for just those mines.
A great reminder of how to think about leadership selection.