Making the leap to enterprise leadership

leadershipYou start off as a functional leader, and within a few years, you’re tapped to lead at a higher level.

Now you have many more employees to oversee and you can learn what it means to lead across the enterprise, not just a single function.

The trouble is, you’re struggling. It’s different at the top.

For many talented execs, this is a turning point. According to interviews with 40 executives, it’s crucial to make a series of (sometimes tricky) shifts at this point, in order to make the leap to enterprise leadership.

Think of them as the “seven seismic shifts,” in which a leader has to shift from what he has been, to what he must become: specialist to generalist, analyst to integrator, tactician to strategist, brick­­layer to architect, problem solver to agenda setter, warrior to diplomat, and supporting cast member to lead role.

Take the first one, specialist to generalist, as an example.

While a functional head knows his department, a generalist must know about everyone’s department. What tends to go wrong during this shift, though, is that a new leader feels dis­oriented. He doesn’t have the confidence he needs. So he tends to overmanage the functional area he understands, and he undermanages everyone else.

You can’t be an expert in every functional area. Your goal must be to learn “enough” to make decisions that will help the business and to evaluate the talent of the team. Steep yourself in the terms and tools used by key business functions, so you can speak their language. The HR team will use different terms and tools than R&D.

Once you understand terms and tools, you can pose the right questions and seek out the right metrics to evaluate and recruit team members—so they can function as the experts.

— Adapted from “How Managers Become Leaders,” Michael D. Watkins, Harvard Business Review.