Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 2: multiple paths to the executive suite – 1

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 15, 2011

This is my second installment in a series on transitioning into senior management (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development) and for at least some readers it may be among my most important that I will be adding. That is because I pick up here on a comment I made in Part 1 where I raised the issue of level and type of background experience that a new executive officer at a business or organization arrives with. Many senior executives, in fact do arrive at the executive suite with a great deal of prior experience, and both in the industry they will lead in and in management and supervisory skills in general. But at least as many arrive there as an early or even first experience in management and leadership, and that is common for startup and new business founders.

That means I am writing this with a very diverse audience in mind, and my goal will be to provoke thought, and to raise questions but hopefully without boring anyone too much for focusing on what they would see as the obvious. My goal here is to develop what in principle at least might be viewed as a common starting point that I can proceed from, and for most any reader.

For true beginners in management, who have a dream and a vision of building something new, you have drive and ambition and if you systematically follow through in realizing your dreams you will more likely succeed. I would still recommend that you read through my Guide series on initially moving into management (From Peer to Supervisor, postings 105, 108, 110, 111 and 113-123) and Moving into Middle Management (postings 142-149.) And I would definitely recommend that you really think through your own experience working with managers who have supervised you, reviewing this as a source of learning opportunities. Here, your negative experiences and lessons on what not to do may be more telling and more valuable then the positive ones, as our negative experiences here can clearly, and even starkly highlight both the how and why for doing things more effectively.

And if you are building a startup I would also recommend that you review Startups and Early Stage Businesses. Several of the earlier postings in that in fact focus on learning curve issues in management per se for startup and early stage business founders, and I have also run series on issues such as building and managing an online store, systematically going through the steps and challenges involved there (postings 20-33, 35, 37, 40, 41 and 55.)

And seek out a mentor who has gone through what you are facing, but one who would not simply have their own agenda. Find a mentor who can offer a more objective judgment and opinion. I have touched on some of the issues of finding and working with a mentor in my blog. As a possible starting point for this you might want to review Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation – Part 7 and building a mentoring network.

You do have a steep learning curve ahead, but this can be done and virtually every startup founder who has succeeded has successfully gone through this, and come out of it a stronger, more secure, more seasoned leader from the learning experience. Here, I simply offer my blog and its resources to help you limit the surprises along the way. And with that I offer one more and very specific point to the new manager executive, before turning to your peers with perhaps more managerial experience.

• One of the most important issues you have to plan and develop in terms of is that of ownership, and responsibility for the organization of your business or organization. You may start out with fire in your belly and a drive to build new and different, and with a clear and compelling focus on where you seek to go with your business. But leading that business as one of its C level officers means building, maintaining and taking responsibility for all of the structure and all of the day-to-day behind making that possible. So learning to be a startup founder who succeeds means developing a clear dual vision and perspective – one eye on the mission and vision, and on the products and services you would create and offer, and one clearly focused on building a business with all the detail work that this involves.

For more seasoned managers, moving through organizational systems to reach the executive suite, you face some real challenges too. As a hands-on worker who reports to others without having any supervisory responsibilities yourself, as a new and first time manager, as a middle manager, you have pretty much always worked according to the strategic vision, and according to an overarching set of goals and priorities set by others. In this, you are in much the same situation as a first time manager executive.

As a C level officer, you now have to go through a fundamental rethinking of your role and your responsibilities, as you are now going to be one of the people responsible for creating and owning that organization-wide strategic framework that both you and others will depend upon. I repeat a crucial point here that I have raised several and even many times through the course of writing this Guide. Transitioning into management per se involves fundamental change, and so does transition into middle management, where that is in several respects fundamentally different than working as a lower level manager – it is not just entry level management written a bit bigger. Moving into senior management involves making a series of fundamental changes too, and on both what you do and in how you think about what you do. Taking ownership of strategy is simply one part of that, which I raise here as an important working example, and to highlight the need for new learning curves – for seasoned middle manages, just as for more first-time managers.

And I finish this portion of this posting, written for more seasoned managers moving into senior management, by highlighting a crucial learning point for you too, just as I did above for first time manager executives.

• I have met and worked with managers who have had many years of experience, and I have met and worked with managers who have had one year or less of experience – but who have repeated that many, many times. How experienced are you as a manger? That is not as much a question of how long you have had management titles, as it is of how many times and how many ways you have been challenged to learn and to grow professionally. How much fundamental change have you experienced and how have you handled it, and both in your own career, and in working with others as you collectively perform tasks and meet goals and priorities? How much have you learned about working with and leading others, and about training and mentoring them to bring out their best and help them reach their fuller potentials?

I write this series and offer it in this Guide with a basic assumption. Anyone making a transition into senior management and organizational leadership is going to have things to learn, and important things if they are to succeed. They may not all start at the same point in the learning curves faced, but anyone advancing to this stage of responsibility will have learning curves. And as I touched upon in my second bullet point, above, anyone involved in this can have gaps in their background and experience that they need to address too. I add in that context, I am continuously learning too, and identifying and addressing gaps in my understanding and skills in this too. There is always opportunity and reason to learn.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment, looking into some of the issues that develop depending on what type of organization you would work with, and whether you are building it from scratch or maintaining and advancing an established business entity.

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