In this issue, we will explore the second loop of the leadership spiral in more detail.
This stage is where people’s focus shifts to managing people who manage others. But also, about setting the course for their own future career – because another thing that shifts is that they have to operate in a way that powerful players can notice their contribution. Unless they want to be „found“, which is what some managers (not only women) expect. I’ll come back to this in a later issue, but the second loop is already a place where people need to look beyond just one mentor. Especially in this day and age, even powerful and highly influential players can fall prey to a major reorganization, and may leave the company literally overnight – not always entirely by choice.
Today, we will look at what happens once people work through the straight and reach the second loop – away from managing individual performances and responsibility for team results, to managing just a few people, who manage others in turn – while staying responsible for results, except that others now drive them. I mentioned the shift from TELLING (instructing) to ASKING (serving), which can be quite counter-intuitive for people who haven’t had role models to observe this in action.
Once you are operating at this level, your job now is to do different things – among others:
- get relevant high-level information and translate it for the people in your teams;
- set the context, and manage expectations;
- make sure you have the best possible people on the job;
- and then rely on their competence to get the actual work done;.
In short, your role has become a lot more strategic and much less operational.
In today’s corporate reality, job roles often combine the requirements of the 1st and 2nd loops – which in fact means that they need managers to be chess and ping pong champions at the same time :). This is more than a little energy draining. It is worth noting that not everyone will develop this combination of skills; many people are only comfortable in one of the two modes.
What specifically does this loop entail? As I mentioned, one of the key tasks is that you make sure that your team leaders have the information and resources they need to reach their goals – and then to get out of their way. This is no trivial endeavour in times of constant reorganisation and cost cutting initiatives, hiring freezes, mergers and takeovers, or any other stress of the day. Such circumstances easily trigger impulses to resort to a “heroic management style”. Also subordinates, understandably, look to management for support. So here is another challenge: to leave things in their team’s hands, but not leave them to fail. There is a fine line between feeling empowered, and feeling abandoned – and to boot, this line is in a different place for different people…
At this level, another key task is making sure your managers are aligned and understand the business’ goals as well as their goals, plus of course get an idea about your goals. More often than not, this means creating several versions of the same message, depending on your audience. This includes translating what key company objectives actually mean for all roles in your team. Many managers for example leave people in internal support functions guessing what „innovation“ might mean for their job role (in HR, IT or finance). Managers don’t need to have all the answers here, but they do need to get the topic on the agenda!
One more key responsibility is people development: you coach your team leaders with their staff issues, mentor them on their further career development, and listen to any serious personal issues they, or someone in their team, might experience. Plus of course, you are constantly on the lookout for talent, and try to match the people you have with the best available roles and projects. You sometimes need to take courageous action when there are serious people issues, or when there is no sufficient match between the present (or future) definition of a role, and what a person brings to the table.
You have to think carefully about how to balance the growing responsibility at work, which comes naturally with seeing deeper contexts and higher levels of complexity than your direct reports. You can’t share all of this openly, which is also new. Here, even more than in the first loop (though this is where it should start), you ask yourself what your direct reports need from you, and how you can find the resources and energy to make this happen. Part of that equation is also how to find time and energy for your own life and interests on the one hand, and avoid being torn between the ever higher expectations of your bosses, your peers, and your direct reports on the other hand.
Manage your career – by helping others to manage your career
On a personal career level, the straight following the second loop is also about finding special projects where you can showcase your talents and ambitions. Yes, this means more work, and that’s the way to get to the next loop – and also, this means opportunities for doing something that you really enjoy and are good at. Be aware that you have to build a personal profile! However you may realize that the times of working overtime and thinking about work in your “free time” aren’t gone, but are here to stay; you just do different things. What you “take home with you” isn’t so much preparing excel sheets and presentations, but thinking through strategies for your next moves. That’s more time consuming and takes energy, and then only this allows you to work on your strategies, not just follow those of others! Plus if you don’t do it, you may (among other things) feel that you waste a lot of time in pointless meetings and conference calls because you have failed to create goals that you can accomplish while you are hanging in there anyway…
A frequent oversight in this phase is that you tend to see mainly the needs of your own line (this is often what your boss encourages you to see), which can alienate your peers, as it has you showing no interest in or understanding for the pressures they are under. This can backfire because at this stage, you need to start investing time and energy into exploring and forming a network outside your own area of responsibility, so that you are in a position to shape coalitions with your peers in the future.