In the past 15 years of experience, I have noticed a common trend. The struggle to move from middle management to senior management.
There are books about the topic, and an array of talks and articles. I believe that the issues of the world of work are quite diverse; this one in particular deserves some attention.
Oftentimes, middle managers, typically with eight to 12 years of relevant professional experience feel stuck. They have the credentials, the passion, and the willingness to grow to the next level. However, they do not. Alternatively, they take too long.
In an era where advancement is time-bound, people expect to reach executive positions, and boards at a relatively young age. Comes also the challenge of women. Data shows that women struggle even more with this transition for reasons I will not state in this post.
If you spend some time reading the pitfalls for transitioning, in large corporate environments similar to ones I have worked in, from the so called “good to great”, you will notice the following.
1- Middle managers do not change their focus. If a middle manager focuses on things a middle manager is concerned about, she will not become a senior manager. As the middle manager changes her focus, she will potentially access higher levels of leadership, and decision making.
2- Middle managers spend time with their peers and subordinates. Middle managers will achieve higher levels of seniority if they earn the trust of executive leaders, and if they maintain these relations that they should initially establish.
3- Middle managers do not act upon all tasks. They only focus on highly important and urgent ones. When they do so, the probability to achieve seniority is higher. Leaders delegate urgent tasks. They also postpone important but not urgent ones. They execute tasks that are both important and urgent.
4- Middle managers solve problems. If they want to seek higher levels in the hierarchy they ought to find opportunities in these problems. These opportunities often pertain to business growth, capability building, or other corporate priorities.
5- Very few senior managers made it without a mentor. One of the ways to unlock the leadership potential in every person is to get a mentor who can help middle managers transition safely navigating the political subtleties, and honing leadership skills.
One short YouTube video focuses on the value of mentorship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYZoX6cxh0E
6- Perhaps one of my favorite readings about career transition from middle management to executive leadership is from McKinsey: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/successfully-transitioning-to-new-leadership-roles. While it clearly draws a roadmap about the transition it also focuses on five elements the individual needs to focus on even before reaching executive leadership; those are
a- The business function: does the person understand its performance? Did she align her teams around its priorities?
b- The culture: does the person understand it? Does it need any change? How is the person a change agent?
c- The team: does the person know the super powers and areas of growth of the team? Did she engage in a development journey?
d- The person herself: did she set her priorities towards the aimed direction?
e- The stakeholders: who are they? Can she influence their viewpoints?
While I think that this topic is challenging in the corporate world, it also remains interesting to explore. There are surely exceptions for fast track career transition, there are as well very sad stories of individuals who are highly credible and qualified, yet they were unable to make it.
Stay tuned for my next story from the workplace: navigating corporate politics, my nightmare!
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