Easily Moving into a Leadership Role

Tuck School of Business

This week I received a tweet from Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business linked to article Management Transitions: From Specialist to Generalist, Michael D. Watkins, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change, IMD Business School, Oct 16th, 2014, which left me wanting. So, the nice folks over at Tuck obliged me by sending over a link to a more complete article by Dr. Watkins on the Harvard Business Review site entitled How Managers Become Leaders, June 2012. For this I thank them. However, this missive left also me wanting.

After much consideration, I came to realize that although Dr. Watkins quite correctly describes the symptoms of transitioning from a functional leadership role to that of general management, he eschews their underlying causes. As in medicine, you want the doctor to treat the causes of what ails you and not the symptoms. Dr. Watkins, in these articles, at least, stick to the symptoms.

From my point of view, that of the ROKC™ Method, the cause of these symptoms – the Seven Seismic Shift™ – can be attributed to a psychological state referred to as “anchoring”. In layman’s terms, you stick with a pre-existing mindset even though the situation has changed; or, a failure to adapt to the new environment. To give an example most of us are familiar with, you are driving down the highway at 70 mph and continue to do so even when you get off it onto smaller roads where the speed limit is 35 mph; it just feels too slow because you are anchored in the experience of driving at 70 mph. It is basically the same thing for a person transitioning from a functional leadership role to a general management one; they are anchored in the previous experience and fail to adapt to the new situation.

This is quite understandable even though hazardous. Each of us, either by the process of formal or informal education, learns a skill they subsequently use in employ of a customer who pays them for their time and contribution. In Dr. Watkins article he refers to the fictitious Harald who works most of his life for a product line working his way up the corporate ladder – successfully I might add – until he is given a general management position in which he trips and stumbles. This is when the HR department comes in with a leadership development program in the hopes of helping out poor Harald.

In most cases, leadership development programs fail because they treat the symptoms and not the causes. However, once we recognize these symptoms as an anchoring problem it becomes much easier to design and implement a program to assist in transition phase. By helping the new leader to see they are anchored on the technical skill set of their education and need to shift their focus to the asset that underlies the business – what we call the “Key Component” they can significantly reduce the amplitude of the Seven Seismic Shifts.

Even though focusing on the business’s Key Component can help the de-anchoring process it is too mechanistic an approach to what is ultimately a human challenge. As with the highway example above, there is a continuity between the two situations that is found in the person driving the car. Likewise, there is continuity in the transition into a leadership role.

In fact, wee should add another layer of analysis by asking the question: “Why did the company decide to promote Harald to such a position in the first place?” To answer this question without knowing the fictitious Harald is impossible. However, we can say that Harald, like many people presently occupying leadership positions in business and elsewhere, exhibited certain leadership qualities early on which led management to fast-track his career and ultimately assume a general management leadership role.

Thus, Harald has a personal “X factor” that he uses to help his community see a less uncertain reality and inspires them to work together to make it a daily fact of of their lives. Whatever this “X factor” may be is not important. What is important is to recognize that beyond the technical skills acquired through training, he has a personal quality that allows him to assume the mantel of leadership. And, regardless of the situation Harald found himself in over the course of his career he was able to call upon and use this “X factor” to be successful and create new opportunities for himself and his community. Any investigation into a transition from “specialist to generalist” cannot be complete without taking this “X factor” into consideration.

In helping Harald through this transition phase not only is it important to change his change in focus from his technical skills to the asset underpinning the business’s existence but it is also, if not more, important to help him to identify his “X factor” and discern how he has used it in the many roles he occupied on his way to the top. Thus, not alienating him from the leadership role he is assuming.

In business, we work with leaders to identify their company’s Key Component – the asset it owns and/or controls that underpins its very existence. With leaders, we strive to achieve the same thing by identifying their personal asset, the “X factor” – that personal attribute that underpins their success. If you wish to discover either asset, please contact us by email or LI messaging. If you wish to learn more about the ROKC Method, visit our website at www.returnonkeycomponent.com and read our articles and buy our book.