Leadership Transitions

by Ron

If you think you can be a member of the leadership team by representing and defending your function, you don’t know what it means to be a member of the leadership team. You really don’t get it.

I think this might be one of the toughest life transitions I’ve seen people go through. Some of the transitions have been well documented through the years and are observable.

Doer to Manager

The first transition in our career tends to be from being a doer to a manager. A manager teaches, moves from empowerment to delegation, grows people, increases their ability to influence, helps them learn. A good manager is very hands-on, growing the people and teaching them basic aspects of the work to be done.

Manager to Leader

The second transition is one that I’ve observed and coached people through for many years. The reason that it sometimes requires a coach is that it is a difficult transition, one that many people never successfully get all the way through. After you’ve been that manager who has experienced some success, you’re now transitioning from being a manager to a leader. You’re now leading managers. You’re not managing doers anymore.

You’re moving more from a teaching mode to a guiding mode. You’re leading is helping managers to also become leaders. This one is particularly difficult because it seems to be the end of the period of your career where we get rewarded for actually getting things done and accomplishing things. People who reach this level have been rewarded consistently through pay, bonuses, and recognition for accomplishing the work. Moving to a leadership role means that you let go of that hands-on application of getting the work done. It means that you need to trust the people around you who report to you to get the work done. You can’t jump in and do it yourself when they fail. You actually have to let them fail to do this. It can be a very tough transition and one that only a percentage of people seem to make through the years.

Leader to Member of Leadership Team

I don’t think we’ve talked about this transition much. I haven’t seen much written on it. I’ve certainly experienced it myself but began recognizing the symptoms only a few years ago. Moving from being a leader, even a solid, well-respected, effective leader, to a member of a leadership team. This move emphasizes collaboration. It’s focused more on the company, or the overall division, not necessarily on functions. It means that you’re faced with dilemmas.

I recently wrote a blog post about bioscience describing why organizations don’t work. It’s because we seldom realize that we need to sub-optimize functions within the overall organization. This is one of the more difficult dilemmas you will face. Making the whole organization work often requires that parts of the organization operate at suboptimal levels for a season. Maybe even the part that you run.

It requires taking off your function hat and putting on your corporate hat. You may be sitting on the CEO’s leadership team, you may be representing finance, or operations, or HR, or transportation, or manufacturing, or information technology, whatever it is that you run as a member of the organization. It’s very difficult to let go, take off your function hat and put on your corporate hat. But, if the leadership team is functioning well, it’s your job to help them make decisions that may cause you to ratchet back your individual and your team’s success over a period for the success of the whole.

This transition to becoming a member of the leadership team may be the most difficult one to make. Few people will get the chance to even try. If you’re one of the fortunate few, don’t sabotage your (and the team’s) success by letting your ego get in the way of the team’s success. Becoming a great team member on a team doing great things brings the highest level of happiness. It’s really a kick!

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