x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Level heads good for trade

The Life: The conditions may be different but the diagnosis is the same - leaders need to move from operational to business leadership.

As companies grow fast, their leaders must move to the new level with amazing speed. AFP
As companies grow fast, their leaders must move to the new level with amazing speed. AFP

The conditions may be different but the diagnosis is the same - leaders need to move from operational to business leadership.

A common theme among businesses across the region is the fast pursuit to upgrade their leaders to the business leadership level. For some, this is being driven by the rapid growth a business has experienced and, as a result, the roles have grown in breadth and impact. For others, the leaders have been promoted into more senior roles and are now sitting on the executive committee facing new challenges and requiring a new focus.

And for some, the leaders recruited from outside have fallen into operational management traps and need to step up to the next level.

Either way, chief executives are recognising the need to shift the mindset and build the skills of their leadership teams to succeed at the higher level.

Let's look at what it means to make the transition to the business leadership level. Borrowing from Ram Charan in The Leadership Pipeline, as companies grow fast, their leaders must move to the new level with amazing speed. Each level requires a change in skill requirements, time application and work values.

The typical leadership path in this region goes from managing others - with the primary focus of day-to-day operation management - to leading managers, with a focus on leading other managers - to either functional or business leadership. Then, for the larger organisations, there is the added layer at the top for group leadership.

The challenge posed to me week on week in my talks with top executives is how can they pull their team up to the business leadership level? The clear need is for leaders to be more strategic in their orientation and business-focused, not "silo" centric.

To begin with success at the business (organisation) leadership level assumes mastery at the previous levels and successfully transitioning from each level to the next by divesting of the previous leadership tasks and thinking.

When someone skips mastering a leadership level and is placed in a higher level it creates an emotional toll for both the leader and the led.

Business leaders actually have to change the way they think. At this level, leaders receive noticeably less guidance from their bosses and, to complicate it more, the level of complexity rises.

The essence of the level is connecting all of the dots of the business and shifting from valuing the functional area to valuing the whole of the business.

Business leadership is about achieving corporate objectives by balancing the meeting of quarterly goals and planning for the future.

Therefore, the time horizon shifts from the day-to-day and getting out of the operational traps, to thinking about the future and defining the strategy to get there. Leaders regularly complain they keep getting sucked back into the operations and this becomes the excuse for not functioning strategically.

When this excuse arises it is usually a sign one of the following troubles, from The Leadership Pipeline, has set in: uninspired communication; inability to assemble a strong team; failure to grasp how the business makes money; problems with time management; or neglect of the soft issues.

Relatively few businesses map out what it takes to be successful at each level and, as a result, hold back the leadership capability of their business - leaving their internal leadership potential untapped.

To help leaders go to the next level, organisations need to provide role clarity - not a job description but differentiated leadership levels.

This is the way to ensure the right types of leaders with the right skills are at the right level.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor, and the author of The CEO Shift. He is also the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center