Companies & Industries

"Can You See a Bigger Picture?"


For most people, being promoted to manager is cause for celebration. They splurge on a dinner with their spouse or maybe buy that Palm VII they've been eyeing. But after the pats on the back subside, most first-time managers realize that being a boss requires different skills from those of a staffer.

Now, suddenly, they're expected to deal with "people issues" -- hiring talent, giving employees feedback, and mediating office squabbles. More skills are needed than were required to land the promotion in the first place. If they're lucky, their company signs them up for management classes. And if they have a boss who coaches them through day-to-day problems, their chances of success as managers get even better.

It isn't only first-time managers who fall flat on their spreadsheets, however. In The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company (Jossey-Bass, $28.50), co-authors Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel propose that each level of management within an organization demands a new set of skills and a new focus on priorities. Line managers, for instance, need to stop doing and start delegating. Newly minted business managers must learn to build strong teams across several divisions and not favor the department in which they "grew up."

While some managers may mature naturally into their new roles, most need training and regular feedback, the authors assert. Companies that don't give that support risk clogging their pipeline with ill-prepared managers and jeopardizing the future leadership of the organization.

The co-authors all know something about leadership development: Drotter's company, Drotter Human Resources, has done CEO succession plans for such companies as Marriott and Citicorp. Noel is a former vice-president of executive development at Citibank and a former manager of executive education at General Electric. Charan, a former faculty member at Harvard Business School, coaches senior executives at some of the country's largest corporations, including Ford, GE, and DuPont. Recently, BusinessWeek Online reporter Jennifer Gill spoke with Charan about, among other things, persuading your boss that you're ready to be a manager. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Let's say I've just been promoted to a manager. Where might I stumble?

A: A number of places, but the most critical stumbling is in your mind-set: Are you going to make the people reporting to you more productive, or are you going to do [the work] yourself? Getting others to do [the work] is very difficult. You've lived so far on your technical knowledge, your knowledge of the profession. Now, you're going over to the human side. You've got to learn how to give up your knowledge. [If not], you won't grow and your employees won't [either].

Q: You say that the second leadership passage is being a manager of managers. What are the critical issues at this stage?

A: This is the formative stage for bigger jobs, where you aren't going to be able to manage a business by knowing all the details directly. You have multiple managers reporting to you. You're going to be passing judgment on the judgment of others. Can you see a bigger picture here? Can you see where the leaders are? How are you managing your time? How are you managing your values? How are you getting information that is useful? Are you motivating people who aren't directly reporting to you?

Q: What is the role of a mentor?

A: A mentor helps you grow and develop. A mentor doesn't clean up the political land mines. If you grow and develop, you can find a job anywhere...It's a mistaken belief to depend on a godfather...You should be self-confident and sufficiently independent so you can say, "O.K., I can go get a CEO job somewhere else."

Q: What's the key to being the No. 2 person?

A: The success of a No. 2 depends on three things. One, does the No. 2 have the motivation to be No. 1? If so, and the No. 1 person isn't going to retire for a long time, what do you think is going to happen? The No. 2 is going to leave. Second, the No. 2 job is different from the No. 1 job. The No. 2 job is nitty-gritty, every hour, every day. The No. 1 job is about having a broader perspective and dealing with external change, boards, constituencies, politics, and everything else. If you stay too long in the No. 2 job, you lose that fire in the belly for the [top] job. Third is the chemistry between you and the No. 1. If the chemistry isn't good, forget it. People will drive a wedge between you.

Q: So much has been written about General Electric's stellar management bench. Why aren't there more examples of companies that have nurtured management talent?

A: It's very simple. General Electric's CEO [Jack Welch] spends -- which I know firsthand -- better than 60% of his time on people issues. If other CEOs did that, they would be able to replicate what he does. Others think they do, [but] they don't. [Welch] takes the time, he devotes the energy, he follows through. And guess how long he has been doing it? Twenty years. So what would you expect?

Q: Why do you think CEO turnover is so high today?

A: The performance demands are solid, and they're being enforced...With every single CEO who has been fired today, on hindsight, it's clear the board made the right decision. Pick any one you want.

Q: If I'm a vice-president, how should I allocate my time?

A: At the end of the day, you've got to understand who the customers are, how the money is being made, and how you contribute to it. Second, you've got to know who your critical people are [and ask]: How good are they? How do I make them into a team? How do I get the best out of them? How do I double their capacity every three years?

Q: The book outlines six layers of corporate management. What happened to flat organizations?

A: There is no company of 1,000 people or more that isn't hierarchical. Don't let anybody tell you [otherwise]. There's a reason for it. You have to allocate resources, you have to assign people. The moment you assign people and allocate resources, you're building a hierarchy.

Q: If I'm an individual contributor, how do I prove to my boss that I'm ready to be a manager?

A: Get on a taskforce. Get on a team. Create a project. Show that you can really work horizontally. It'll come out. You won't be able to hide it.

Q: But what if my boss still doesn't recognize my ambitions?

A: If you don't get a chance, go somewhere else. Don't be blocked -- this is a free society. If you have self-confidence, there will be plenty of jobs. Eventually, if a boss loses a lot of people, people will start asking, "What kind of a boss is that?"


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