Many people strive to achieve a high level in their organization, but never make it, and they have a lot of trouble getting a straight answer as to why not. Several years ago I read some work by a consulting organization that did research on individuals who made good career progress, but frustratingly, never were abler to achieve the last step to an executive level.
The research suggested the following are the areas where you may not get good coaching or the help needed to improve your skills.
Confusion About People Development
Consider Boss #1 who has the ability to consistently help his people successfully meet their project goals. Also, this boss creates a fun atmosphere and people really enjoy working for him. Boss #1 has a reputation of taking folks that were not viewed as being on the fast track (i.e. they are “B” players), and lining them up with clear responsibilities that enabled them to do excellent work. Boss #1 constantly gets excellent performance reviews. You can rely on him and his team to deliver and often beat the plan.
In contrast, Boss #2 is not the warm, fuzzy type. Working for her is not for the faint of heart. She constantly challenges her staff members to truly excel, and they grow in the process, often generating fresh ideas that end up having big impact. She is very quick to bluntly point out problems and to give frank and explicit, but not always pleasant, performance feedback. Given these traits, her development of top talent is excellent and “A” players love to work for her because they know it won’t be easy, but it will enable them to grow.
The skills of Boss #1 are ideal for upper middle management, but not top management. The skills of Boss #2 are highly valuable in both settings.
The Importance of Both Strategy and Execution
Boss #1 is highly sought after since he is an extremely reliable guy when it comes to taking even the most complicated projects and executing flawlessly. He is able to take a game plan for achieving a set of results, significantly improve on that plan, and then organize his team and drive the effort to successful completion.
Boss #2 is also excellent at execution, and has numerous examples of doing so on key projects in the past. On the other hand, what she really excels at is conceiving of a fresh strategic direction or a large scale initiative that produces a quantum leap in performance. She is constantly adding valuable perspective to strategic dilemmas her boss is wrestling with. Her ability to come up with new strategic ides that can have big potential impact make her a much sought after talent.
Again, Boss #1 is very valuable in the upper middle management ranks, but it is Boss #2 who is clearly a candidate for executive responsibilities.
Making the Tough Decisions
Boss #1 does a great job of involving all relevant parties when tough decisions need to be made. He works long and hard to incorporate all suggestions, often making significant compromises, some of which do decrease impact, but he ends up with a consensus that has the buy-in of all the key players.
When needing to make a tough decision, Boss #2 will aggressively seek out all the relevant facts and opinions and then develop a decision and rationale. She will test her thinking on several key players that have related expertise, get input, and then make any last minute modifications and move ahead. For the really tough decisions that involve strategic direction, Boss #2 is comfortable with the fact that the decision might not please everyone, but Boss #2 is reluctant to make compromises that she knows will weaken the impact of the decision
When managing complex projects, the approach of Boss #1 is valuable, but Boss #2 can not only handle such situations but is strong when it comes to dealing with tough strategic choices that need to be made and where there is no right answer or perfect solution.
A key frustration for Boss #1 is his career is that during formal performance reviews he typically gets very positive feedback and when he asks about his chances to make it to the executive level, he doesn’t really get a straight answer, since he is highly valuable to the organization and his bosses don’t want to lose him. Hence, when he presses, he is given broad statements like” you just need to get a bit more seasoning” or “I am sure that sooner or later the right executive job will come along” are constantly told to him.
The world needs both of these types of bosses, but if you are wondering about what is takes to get into top management, you better have Boss #2-like skills!
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