In this issue, we will explore the second loop of the leadership spiral in some detail.

This stage is where people’s focus shifts to managing managers who in turn manage others. This is where people set the course for their future career – because another thing that shifts is that they can operate in such a way that powerful players will notice their contribution. Unless they want to wait to be „found“, which is what some people (and not only women) expect. I’ll come back to this in a later issue.

The second loop is already a place where people are well advised to look for more than just one mentor. In these volatile times, even powerful and highly influential players can fall prey to a major reorganization, or demonstratively disagree with a strategic decision – and leave the company literally overnight. Some by choice, others less so.

Let’s look into what happens once people work through the straight and reach the second loop – away from managing individual performance and responsibility for their own team’s results, to managing just a few people, who manage others in turn. Of course they will stay responsible for results, except that others now have to drive them. I mentioned the shift from TELLING (instructing) to ASKING (serving), which can be quite counter-intuitive for people who haven’t had convincing role models to observe this principle at work.

Once you are operating at this level, your job now is to do a lot of different things, as well as a lot of things differently – the list includes:

  • 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 you to be a chess and a ping pong champion at the same time… This can be 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, and are best advised to respect their preference.

So – what specifically does this loop entail? We mentioned that one of the key tasks is to 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, among other stress factors. 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 will be in a very 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 get an idea about your goals. More often than not, this means creating several versions of the same message, depending on your audience. 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! So – provide some orientation and help translate what key company objectives actually mean for the roles in your team!

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.

Something weighty. Pebble stability scales with large and small stones. Extralarge resolution

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!

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 excel sheets and presentations, but thinking through strategies for your next moves. The bad news is that this can easily be more time consuming. Also, it takes considerable energy, but it’s energy well invested, for doing this will allow 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 (which, naturally, is what your boss encourages you to see), and thus alienate your peers. They may perceive you as showing no interest 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 resilient network outside your own area of responsibility, so that you are in a position to shape coalitions with your peers in the future. 

Sounds like where you are at? Then let’s see if, together, we can come up with a few strong moves for you… You know where to find me!

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