Woman looks jealously at colleagueDo your managers fear their protégés? What I mean by this is that surely there is an innate fear in all of us that the precocious, cocky/sassy young upstart we see in front of us will rise up; perhaps, this will be a little faster than we might like and he or she will replace us, leaving us out of a job and struggling to make the Lexus payments.

It’s easy to react to this with a high-minded outrage, thinking that you would never be reduced to such petty territoriality and protectionism, but why is it then that interviewees know instinctively not to say to you that they, “….expect to be doing your job in five years time, better than you are doing it now,” when prompted with the, “Where do you see yourself in five years questions?” It’s because they know they may be flying a little too close to the sun and that they may be triggering feelings of insecurity in the leader and appear as a threat, which could result in their application being buried.

This innate tension between leader and protégé, (especially one who promises to be better than the leader), occurs across the organization and could compromise insecure leaders and potentially interrupt succession planning processes. Insecure leaders may be reluctant to identify and groom replacements as a form of self protection.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know the extent of this phenomena of protégé blocking, but we can see signs of it in organizations, possibly hiding under the veneer of the manager who won’t delegate responsibility and power for fear that things might be done in a different way than them or even better. This can result in heavily micromanaged teams, and frustrated, under-developed  and lower performing staff as shown in studies by FranklinCovey and one published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Another side effect of this failure to delegate and groom protégés is a leadership vacuum when the micromanaging leader moves on, ‘leaving’ a of team underdeveloped ‘corporate children’ in his or her wake.

This micromanagement and fear of grooming protégés is damaging to firms as it can lead to disengagement, due to lack of development opportunities, thereby increasing your turnover rate. There is also a price you have to pay for going external due to a lack of internal successors as studies show that external recruits are more expensive and don’t perform as well as internal recruits in similar roles.

However, the irony in the situation of the micromanager who fears grooming his protégés is that this act is self defeating. We have already shown that micromanaged teams are likely to be less productive and experience higher turnover, which will ultimately reflect badly on that leader. In addition to this, a Harvard Study (titled Smart Leaders Have Protégés) shows that there is a powerfully positive protégé effect bestowed on leaders who groom their protégés and don’t bury them. The study found that:

White leaders — both men and women — with a posse of protégés are 11% more satisfied with their own rate of advancement than those who haven’t invested in up-and-comers. Sponsors of color who have developed young talent are overall 30% more satisfied with their career progress than those who haven’t built that base of support.

So, it’s pretty clear leaders should not fear protégés. Quite the opposite. The more protégés that leaders groom for leadership, the more friends and powerful allies they will have in their network who can return favors in the future and help them to progress their career in the future.

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