Leadership is an important propeller of nations, organizations and communities all over the world. The prosperity of nations is not based on the mere possession of resources but on how effectively they are harnessed. The profitability of business entities emerges from the appropriate application of resources. The potential of people to lead and generate change is available to all nations. The consciousness of this potential and deliberate action to extract it is a broad-based responsibility. Global statistics indicate the immense value of corporate entities in nation building and wealth creation. Small, seemingly anonymous businesses also make significant contributions albeit less publicized than that of their larger counterparts. Governments and corporations have critical roles in enhancing and liberalizing leadership at all levels.
There are multiple levels at which leadership is displayed and needs to to enhanced. The least recognized of them is at the neophyte level. This is where management trainees, entry level officers and those fresh out of school are located. Unfortunately, the neophyte level is hardly given attention in conversations about leadership. The popular thinking that leadership is at the top smothers the idea of investing in leadership development at the bottom of the hierarchy.
In many industries, the middle management cadre is the main hub of supervisory activity and productivity. The middle manager level varies according to organizational structure.In a general sense, the middle manager is about halfway into the career journey, sits above the first level and beneath the third and possibly fourth levels. Middle management is arguably the most complex to navigate because it entails multiple relationships – supervising leaders, peers, and those being supervised by the middle manager. The outcomes in middle management prove pivotal to the future of potential senior leaders. These outcomes could swing careers to either a slowdown or frequent progress. Important as middle managers are, there is research evidence that most people do not receive leadership training until an average age of about 43.
At a certain stage in the career journey, a middle manager moves up to senior management. This stage is seen as a major milestone and the culmination of the efforts from the neophyte years. Job perks not accessible at middle management become normal – official car, enclosed office, vacation tickets and several other benefits in kind. Yet, the transition is difficult for many individuals to manage. The shift from managing operations and activities to managing people is the deepest challenge. Relating with previous peers who become direct reports also shows up as a handicap. Recognising the need to alter behavioural style and time management does not come easy in the transition. Adapting from doing to delegating weighs heavily on shoulders of the novice senior manager. In reality, the difficulty of transition is not likely to be confessed. I can confess through this medium that I stumbled through the transition. With aspiration for further promotion being endless, up next is executive management.
All the dreams of many years finally come true as one becomes a top executive. Welcome to the famous C-suite or the executive committee. The individual is now a Chief officer of a department or business unit. Nice abbreviations are printed on the business card – ED with a suffix, CTO, CIO, CHRO, CFO, COO or most desirable of all, CEO. In some organizational structures, it could be when you get a G in your title such as GM. The perks of senior management are multiplied in recognition of the new height attained – additional car, official apartment and in the Nigerian setting, official generator. Then a fresh burden comes upon the beneficiary. Hard questions with limited answers. What does it really take to perform at this level? Was I prepared for the transition? Who can I tell that I suddenly feel incapable? What new skills and behaviours do I need to match my new status? Limited answers and in numerous cases even more limited readiness.
The missing link
Through all these stages, there is often a missing link: a full recognition by both organisations and individuals that leadership skills are critical requirements. Instead, leadership development could begin after arrival in the C-Suite. The response might include courses in top business schools or seeking to learn only from ongoing experience. The business school path mostly leads to increased knowledge but a dire shortage of new conduct and application. The experience path is filled with trial and error which sometimes proves detrimental to entire businesses.
Consequently, enhancing leadership is a valuable imperative on all fronts. From the personal to the departmental, through to the organizational and national – each dimension requires leadership. In the course of subsequent serial articles, we will provide perspectives on enhancing leadership across multiple arenas. Subsequent articles will cover the four levels from neophyte to executive followed by highlights for company directors. Thereafter, we will examine several other themes such as the organizational role, women, diversity, and coaching.