Seven seismic shifts to becoming a leader

Summary:How managers become leaders is viewed differently by organizations, often shaped by the company’s culture. And if it is not a priority, this will impact your ability to grow as a leader. The transition from running a function to running an entire enterprise can be startling.

How managers become leaders is viewed differently by organizations, often shaped by the company’s culture. And if it is not a priority, this will impact your ability to grow as a leader. The transition from running a function to running an entire enterprise can be startling. There are seven seismic shifts that someone must go through to acquire the skills and cultivate the mindset needed to evolve from specialist to running an organization.

In a recent article, How Managers Become Leaders, Michael Watkins outlines the transitions that must undergo in order to acquire new skills and conceptual frameworks.

“They must learn to move from specialist to generalist, analyst to integrator, tactician to strategist, bricklayer to architect, problem solver to agenda setter, warrior to diplomat, and supporting cast member to lead role.”

While Watkins was focused on managers, it also provides a road map for technicians who are looking to move from their current role into a more visible leadership position.

Specialist to Generalist
This first evolution will take you from leading a single function to leading a full set of business functions. To accomplish this you will need to develop a new language - one associated with the business that you are now leading.

You must be fluent in both, being able to explain technical topics to the business and business topics to technology. I have seen many leaders who, when given this opportunity, will focus on or over manage the function with which they are most familiar, to the detriment of others.

The biggest challenge is for non-technical managers, as they must learn boh. An example is a non-technical manager who will focus on soft-skills during the annual review of his or her technical teams. Really, can you be too technical when you are in a technical role? Apparently, if you work for this manager, you can.

Analyst to Integrator
An analyst will typically understand a single business, while an integrator is expected to be able to work across multiple organizations to solve complex organizational challenges. Here Watkins highlights that what is needed is a generalist who understands the trade-offs needed to reach an optimal solution.

Continuing the evolution from a narrow specialization to being more and more a generalist is often a very difficult transition for technologists who, as they are given more responsibility, find their technical skills wanning.

Tactician to Strategist
Being able to shift easily between the details and the larger picture is the hallmark of this transition. Strategists need to be able to understand the bigger picture, identifying patterns, anticipating and being able to influence stakeholders.

Here, again, both skill sets are needed. I have seen many good strategists who are unable to implement their strategy. Likewise, there are many good tacticians who are unble to see beyond packaged solutions or well defined processes. 

It is not enough to do one thing well, you need to be able to get the technical teams to perform while managing key internal and external players.

Do you know folks like this? I sure do.

Bricklayer to Architect
Because my day job is to be an architect, I’ll quote Watkins’ here.

“Understanding how to analyze and design organizational systems so that strategy, structure, operating models, and skills best fit together effectively and efficiently, and harness this understanding to make needed organizational changes.”

I have to say, the Watkins is right on the money when he writes that, “Too often senior executives dabble in in the profession of organizational design without a license – and end up committing malpractice.”

I have seen not only executives commit this form of malpractice but from vendors who only understand how to sell a prepackaged solution. To quote a friend, care must be taken to not create a sea of islands, but rather a holistic enterprise architecture in which scalability and choice can be driven independently at the Compute, Storage, SAN, Tape, LAN, Database, Middleware, File/Print and Management layers.

In developing rising stars from problem solver to agenda setter, from warrior to diplomat, and ultimately from supporting cast member to lead role, organizations ought to provide candidates with exposure to a broad range of business experiences, a position on a senior management team, and client facing experience or exposure. As they progress further, provide them with the appropriate training in organizational design, business process improvement, transition management, and allows them to build external networks – sounds like a good MBA program is in order here.

Lastly, at the time of their first enterprise promotion, Watkins recommends that the unit to which they are assigned to lead be small and focused, staffed with an experienced and assertive team which will allow for growth and learning.

Have you had experience moving through these developmental seismic shifts? Let me know.   

Topics: CXO


Gery Menegaz is a Chief Architect for IBM with more than 20 years supporting technologies in the financial, medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, legal and education sectors. My Full-Time Employer is IBM. I write as a freelancer for ZDNet.

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