20 Consequences Of Promoting Leaders Who Lack People Skills

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

When someone rises to a leadership position, they are often expected to have both technical expertise and the ability to think strategically. However, what happens when an individual becomes a leader without demonstrating essential people skills?

A leader who lacks soft skills can inadvertently lower team morale and damage interpersonal relationships, ultimately hindering productivity. Here, Forbes Coaches Council members explore the potential consequences of promoting professionals lacking in people skills and why leaders should pause before extending a promotion to the wrong person.

1. Creates A Disengaged Workforce

Promoting a leader who lacks people skills is a risk that creates a disengaged workforce, affecting the organization’s culture and reputation. C-level decision-makers should view developing and deepening emotional intelligence and communication skills as a strategic investment in the organization’s future success, balancing tactical skill proficiency with the ability to lead effectively. – Dr. Shanequa Fleming, Culture Accelerators

2. Fuels A Lack Of Relational Leadership

Leadership is anchored in relationships. A keen understanding of human nature, reasons for behavior and exceptionally honed communication skills are essential and fundamental to leading well. People skills generate productivity, innovation and profit. Studies prove it; employees know it. Without relational leadership, you have an employee, maybe even a manager, but you do not have a leader. – Leeza Carlone Steindorf, Core Success Coaching

3. Increases Employee Attrition

Promotion decisions are often based on competence in a certain domain. Failure is when it’s assumed that competence in one domain is the same as competence in another, like leadership. Research shows the team suffers and the professionals themselves become discouraged. This creates the biggest consequence of all: attrition of a one-time star employee and attrition of the impacted team. – Saba Hasanie, OSC Leadership Performance

4. Shows A Lack Of Mission And Vision

Expert knowledge and management competence are important, but the higher you go in the organization, the more you need to set a compelling vision and create energy for others to follow. Leadership at this level requires influencing skills to align employees and other stakeholders to deliver the organization’s mission. Creating energy and influencing others requires well-developed people skills. – Charles Dormer, APEX STP, LLC

5. Causes Workforce Confusion And Turmoil

A leader with zero evidence of people skills causes confusion and turmoil within the workforce. Personnel call in sick, gossip, look for new work on company time or quit. They wonder if they will be fired, not receive a promotion or lose opportunities. Productivity wanes and communication is stifled. Before promoting that leader, they need to be coached in people skills and communications. – Diane Hudson, Career Marketing Techniques, LLC

6. Shows That Promotion Does Not Align With Skill Set

Too often, managers who do well in one position are promoted to an area where they are asked to perform at the same level of excellence with a completely different skill set. Consider the salesperson who is amazing at hitting sales goals and promoted to sales manager where they don’t sell. The required skill set is as important as the performance. – Amy Feind Reeves, HireAHiringManager, Formerly JobCoachAmy

7. Creates A Lack Of Context

A leadership role is a new experience for anyone who has not managed others—reminds me of when I became CEO for the first time, and my coach described the transition as equivalent to changing the engine on the QE2 while it was crossing the ocean. To extend the metaphor, the newly appointed manager or leader is in a strange land and lacks context for what leading others means. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

8. Paves The Way For Failure

Abject failure is the consequence. Leadership is all about people. C-level decision-makers should never promote anyone with zero evidence of people skills into a leadership position. At some level, there should be evidence that a candidate treats people well, builds and maintains healthy relationships and can communicate clearly. If this threshold is not met, they are not yet ready for leadership. – Jim Vaselopulos, Rafti Advisors, LLC

9. Shows A Lack Of A Clear Path

Most organizations have now realized the different paths of individual contributors versus managers. Both add value to the business and have different skill sets. Before promotion, leadership should establish the skills required for a people management career path. Leaders should have clear criteria to evaluate if someone is a good fit for leadership positions. – Krista Neher, Boot Camp Digital

10. Drives Away Your Best And Brightest

Sooner or later, if they lack people skills, that very, valuable person you promoted into the C-Suite is going to turn into a liability and annoy a whole bunch of people, potentially driving away your best and brightest. Reign those folks in fast—get them an executive coach who specializes in working with abrasive, low-EQ leaders, and if they don’t change, move them out, fast. – Gregg Ward, MCEC BCC, The Center for Respectful Leadership

11. Diminishes Relationships

You can be good at your job, but the way you go about it impacts teams and their success. When you lack people skills, you may be less able to build relationships needed to influence others, build trust and create effective teams to meet organizational goals. Before offering a promotion to the potential leader, consider an emotional intelligence assessment that offers strategies for the skills your team member needs to strengthen. – Kathleen Shanley, Statice

12. Undermines Company Culture

People skills—which focus a team not only on the “what” of what they’re working on but the “how” of how they work together—are a requirement of today’s leaders. An absence of the “people” focus of leadership often results in a team being disengaged or demoralized. The C-level decision-makers who installed that leader then become both responsible for and complicit in undermining company culture. – Jennifer Zaslow, Clear Path Executive Coaching

13. Causes Employee Stress And Escalations

Advancing someone into leadership lacking people skills can be disastrous for team morale and productivity. Without the ability to connect with, inspire and support others, a leader may struggle to gain loyalty, trust or buy-in for initiatives from their team. Employees may feel undervalued, stressed or disconnected from the vision. Conflicts could escalate due to poor communication. – Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Human Capital Innovations

14. Impacts On Team Morale And Productivity

The consequence is toxicity impacting team morale and productivity. When a leader lacks the ability to effectively communicate, empathize, and collaborate with their team (or peers), it can lead to conflicts, disengagement and decreased performance. This can have a ripple effect on the organization’s culture and overall success. – Joshua Miller, Joshua Miller Executive Coaching

15. Decreases Cohesion

People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad leaders! Promoting a leader with no people skills can lead to decreased team morale, productivity and cohesion. C-level decision-makers should pause to avoid potential damage to team dynamics, organizational effectiveness and the company’s reputation. – Jay Garcia, Jay Garcia Group

16. Leads To High Turnover And A Toxic Work Culture

Promoting individuals without excellent people skills can lead to disengaged teams, higher turnover and a toxic work culture. C-level decision-makers should pause, as this could impede productivity, hinder innovation and impact the company’s bottom line. Effective leadership hinges on the ability to inspire, motivate and guide a team, making people skills a critical competency for success. – Anna Yusim, MD, Yusim Psychiatry, Consulting & Executive Coaching

17. Creates An Aversion To Conflict

The ability to manage does not ensure the ability to lead. Like any mastery, it requires dedicated training and mentoring. Without this training, these leaders tend to slide into micro-managing or the opposite—a “laissez-faire” environment where clear direction, decision making and vision are subjugated to a fear of not being liked and an aversion to conflict. – Meridith Alexander, G.R.I.T. Mindset Academy

18. Triggers Consequences On The Leader

The impact on others is well known when a leader is promoted without people skills. You must also consider the consequences on the leaders themselves. If they lack self-awareness, which is the most basic people skill, it means that they don’t know their strengths and weaknesses and can’t manage their emotions. Without the support of a coach and mentors, they will falter fundamentally. – Loren Margolis, TLS Leaders

19. Results In Negative Micromanagement

What got you here, won’t get you there. Workers are often promoted to leadership and management positions because of their demonstrated prowess in their jobs. They often struggle to let go of doing the job and allow their people to try and fail. This leads to negative micromanagement behaviors as the leader tries to prevent any failure in the business they manage. – John Knotts, Crosscutter Enterprises

20. Rewards The Wrong Behaviors

You reward the wrong behaviors and create a transactional culture that never sets you up for long-term success. When leaders who lack heart-centered competencies are hired, they tend to put results over people and prioritize transactions over connections. You might make your numbers out of compliance, but you’ll never earn commitment that way. – Justin Patton, The Trust Architect Group