From Managing Self to Managing Others
New, young employees usually spend their first few years in an organisation as an individual contributor.
By sharpening and broadening their individual skills, collaborating with others, demonstrating professionalism and delivering results – especially after being given extra responsibilities – they are often considered ‘promotable’.
When this happens, they are at Transition One. Essential skills to develop at this stage include making time for others, planning, motivating, coaching, goal setting and performance management.
Though this might seem like an easy, natural transition, it’s often one where people stumble.
High performing people are typically reluctant to change; they want to keep doing the things that made them successful. The shift to getting work done through others is difficult unless there is a change in what they value from work.
First-time managers need to learn to value managerial work rather than just tolerate it. And, as the pressure to spend less time on individual work and more time on managing others increases with each subsequent transition, if they don’t change now, they’ll become liabilities later.
It’s a major reason why pipelines clog and leaders fail.
From Managing Others to Leading Managers
This is where the foundation of management is built, as level-two managers select and develop the people who will eventually become the company’s leaders. Level-two managers must also begin to think beyond their function and consider strategic issues that support the overall business strategy.
If they haven’t developed the skills and changed what they value in their work in transition one, they’ll continue to value their individual contributions above their managerial responsibilities.
If that’s the case they help maintain – and even instil – the wrong values in those individuals who report to them. They’ll tend to choose high technical achievers for first-line managerial roles, rather than true potential leaders; they are unable to differentiate between those who can do and those who can lead.
They also need to be able to identify value-based resistance to managerial work in their reports, and be able to coach them though the transition.
That’s hard to do if you haven’t made the transition yourself.
From Leading Managers to Leading a Function
While on the surface the difference between leading managers and leading a function might appear negligible, Transition Three is tougher than it appears.
Communication with the individual-contributor level now requires penetrating at least two layers of management, so development of new communication skills are required. Functional heads must also manage some areas that are outside their own experience – they must learn to both understand the foreign work and value it.
They now report to multifunctional general managers and have to become skilled at taking other functions’ needs into consideration, compete with others for resources based on business needs and blend the strategy for the function with that of the business. Developing strategic thinking, analytical and broader communication skills are required at this stage.
Time spent on cross-functional and business work means that delegating responsibilities becomes mission critical. If they haven’t made the work-value shifts – and still value their individual contributions – this can derail their leadership.
Succeeding in this leadership transition requires increased leadership maturity: thinking and acting like a functional leader rather than a functional member and adopting a broad, long-term perspective. They must lead their function into the future, with a sustainable competitive advantage, not just an immediate but temporary edge.
From Leading a Function to Leading a Business
The transition to leading a business is a sharp turn: a major shift in skills, time applications, and work values. But it’s often the most satisfying – as well as the most challenging – stage of a leader’s career journey, with more new and unfamiliar responsibilities than any other transition.
It’s not just becoming more strategic and cross-functional in thinking – though it is important to build on the abilities rooted in the previous level – the accountability now lies with integrating functions, rather than just understanding and working with them.
For those with a background in one just function, they are now responsible for unfamiliar areas of the business. They need to learn to manage different functions and become skilled at working with a wider variety of people. Leaders at Transition Five need to become more sensitive to functional diversity issues and communicate more clearly and effectively than ever before. A common failure at this transition is not valuing and recognising the contribution of all areas of the business.
There’s also a shift from looking at plans and proposals functionally – Can we do it? – to also take a long-term profitability perspective – Will we make any money and is it sustainable? The paradox of balancing short-term and long-term thinking is one that often causes major problems.
One of the key work-value shifts required is creation of thinking time. Leaders at this level need to stop doing every second of the day and reserve time for reflection and analysis.
From Leading a Business to Leading a Group
At Transition Five, leadership becomes far more holistic. A group leader needs to now value the success of other people’s businesses.
Leaders at this level can’t maintain a specialist mentality: they need to evolve their perspective to see issues in the broadest possible terms.
There are also for key skills to master:
1. Evaluate strategy in order to allocate and deploy capital
A sophisticated skill that involves learning to ask the right questions, analysing the right data and applying the right corporate perspective to understand which business strategy – prepared by their business leaders – has the greatest probability of success.
2. Develop business Leaders
Know who is ready to become a business leader and coach them through the transition.
3. Develop and implement a portfolio strategy
This is the first time leaders have to ask: Do I have the right collection of businesses? What businesses should be added, subtracted or changed to position us properly and assure current and future earnings?
4. Assess whether they have the right core capabilities to win
Avoid wishful thinking, look at resources objectively and make judgments based on analysis and experience.
They also need to be prepared for bigger decisions, greater risks, more uncertainty and the longer time spans inherent to this leadership level.
From Leading a Group to Leading an Enterprise
Transition Six focusses on work values more than skills. A CEO who has skipped one or more transitions can compromise the performance of the leaders who report directly to him – and individuals all the way down the line – if work-value shifts haven’t been made.
They need to let go of the pieces – the individual products and customers – and focus on the whole: How well the organisation conceives, develops, produces and markets all products to all customers.
Enterprise leaders also need to come to terms with the fact that their performance as a CEO will be based on three or four high-leverage decisions a year; they must set these three or four mission-critical priorities and focus on them.
Finally, at this level, a CEO must assemble a team of high-achieving and ambitious direct reports, knowing that some of them want his job and choosing them for the team despite that knowledge.
This is also the only leadership position in the organisation with the responsibility to inspire the entire employee population. Communication skills, through a variety of tools, are critical to success.