What got you here may not get you there

Posted on July 26, 2010

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Personal Management, photo from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

As Michael Watkins depicted in his book, The First 90 Days, leadership transitions can often be a sink-or-swim event for leaders and managers. Indeed, this is not without a good reason. Many times, by after being promoted based on their good performance, leaders and managers falsely assuming that the strategy that has got them there will take them on in their leadership journey.

This group of leaders falls into the trap of wrongly generalizing the nature of their work, and the skills demanded of them in each position. By being promoted based on their merits, many leaders often conclude that the skills they possess are the “right” set of skills, and using these skills in their new position would help them achieve the same good performance.

What they fail to realise is that each job demands a different set of qualities, each environment requires a different approach, and each team requires a different method. The attention to detail that helps an accountant do well would not serve a manager if he ends up micromanaging as a result. A team of unmotivated workers would require a different strategy than a team of subordinate managers. The leadership style needed for an execution based environment at the ground level would not fit a team of executives.

Often, a mistake of overgeneralization could cost a leader his career. Such generalizations occur at the start of the journey as a leader or manager of a new team, and once poor first impressions are formed, it would be an uphill battle to set things straight, presuming that the leader or manager realises that he is down the wrong track in the first place!

Worthy of note is the transition from a leadership position to a management position. As the nature of the requirement of leadership positions and management positions are radically different, a leader would be dealing himself a great blow by handling his new position improperly. A leader leads from the front, whereas a manager leads from the back. A leader does things right, whereas a manager does right things. These differences in paradigms could make or break a leader.

It is absolutely crucial to realise that what worked for us thus far would not necessarily work for us in the future. It may be tempting to keep working on the skills that we are good at, and the very strategies that have yielded good performance, but if we fail to look beyond that and see the larger picture, we would be doing ourselves, as well as our new teams, a great disservice, and would very likely find ourselves out of control of the situation.

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