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July 11, 2023

Why Your Leadership Skills Change As You Move Up the Ladder

Categories:  Leadership | Assessments

“What you get by reaching your destination is not nearly as important as what you will become by reaching your destination.”

If you’re in a leadership position at your organization, you’ve likely been in more minor leadership roles before that. Maybe you became good at managing a team, and now you’re in a new position struggling to manage everything on your plate.

That’s because every phase of leadership requires different skills, values, and time. These can be broken down into leadership passages based on the book The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan. We want to share six (or seven) critical career passages with you. We’ll give a breakdown and explain the skills required to be successful in each. As your position changes, you can follow these passages to ensure you’re providing what your organization needs in those roles.

Level 0: Managing Self

You may not think of it as leadership, but the first place we all start is by being able to lead ourselves. At this level, you’re concerned primarily with individual results and success. You are focused on self-management and how you show up as a team member.

Someone in this phase will focus on working in the assigned time frames, sharpening their individual skills, and increasing their contributions to the team. That means you will spend most of your time planning or focusing on punctuality, content, quality, and reliability.

At this phase, you value adopting professional standards and accepting the company culture. While you never stop having to manage yourself, this phase can eventually give way to other priorities you also need to manage.

Level 1: Manage Others

When you first get promoted to managing your own team, the skills required and priorities will change. You will look at how you can best get results through others and how you can help your team become successful. You will deal with more complex three-way communication, team planning, and team building.

As someone who manages others, you’ll need to develop skills around job design, people selection, delegation, coaching, relationship building, and project planning. That’s because most of your time will be spent doing annual or quarterly plans, being available for your team’s needs, setting priorities, and helping others perform effectively.

In this leadership position, you focus on the success of the unit, not just the individual. You have to change your mindset to see yourself as part of the management structure, not as someone trying to work against it.

Level 2: Manage Managers

You might think that it's a similar skill set once you get to the phase of managing managers. After all, you’re still managing a team. However, you're more removed from the individual workers, which gives its own challenges.

One way that it is similar is that you’ll focus on how you can get results through the managers themselves. You're working to make the managers successful, just like you did with the team. But success as a manager is different from success as a team member.

You’ll need skills in managing boundaries, selecting the next generation of leaders, coaching managers, and coordinating resources across teams. At this level, you’ll need to spend time monitoring the flow of work between units to ensure efficiency and functionality. You’ll also need to critically evaluate your managers to ensure they meet their responsibilities.

At this level, it’s not just about the success of the team; it is about the success of the business. You need to have that bigger picture in mind (become more strategic) to be effective.

Level 3: Functional Manager

If you were expecting level 3 to be “managing the managers who manage the managers,” that’s not exactly wrong, but a functional manager is a better title. As you may have guessed, this level is all about functional effectiveness.

A functional manager is responsible for developing functions throughout the organization and leveraging them to meet the company objectives. It requires a better understanding of the company as a whole to develop systems and processes and to collaborate and influence across business lines. You may be leading HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Marketing/Sales, Software Development, etc.

Level 4: Business Manager

At level 4, the focus is on business excellence. Whereas the functional manager might be looking at specific functions of the organization, the business manager is leading all those functions. The business manager most likely has profit and loss responsibility and is accountable for improved business performance.

They are the driver of business strategy and are able to guide the rest of the team on where they’re going.

Level 5: Group Manager

The group manager draws on some of the skills from earlier levels. They are responsible for developing business leaders and organizations that run the business. They will still have an eye on strategy and have significant input into the overall enterprise strategy. They are leading a portfolio of businesses, and the focus here is allocating capital and evaluating the individual businesses for the core capabilities to succeed.

They are also responsible for portfolio management which can include strategy, organization, leadership, and more.

Level 6: Enterprise Manager

Finally, we will look at the enterprise manager. This person will be setting the direction for the entire enterprise. They will manage in the broader, global context that most other teams will not interact with.

At this level, the priority is to deliver consistent top and bottom-line results and ensure the organization is aligned around key business priorities. These leaders are setting direction, leading culture, and creating mechanisms that drive growth and performance in the long term.

Understanding Leadership Passages

Now that we have introduced each of these levels, you can take time to identify where you are or even where others in your company fall. This can help you get a better understanding of the differences in priorities and skills that different members of your team have. If you have ever felt like your boss did not care about the same things you care about, you will likely notice that it can be intentional.

If you’d like to speak with us further about your unique leadership position or developing your leaders to become fully capable/ready for each Leadership Passage, please feel free to reach out to us.

Best Regards,


Lori Heffelfinger & James Jackman

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