Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Keep Your Job By Becoming A Leader

In seven years of studying the process of leading from below in hundreds of companies around the world, James Kelly and Scott Nadler of ERM, a global consulting firm focused on environment, health, safety and social management, identified clear patterns in how managers succeed---and fail---in facing their own mana gement constraints.

These patterns suggest for the vast majority of business managers who are not CEOs, there are practical ways to play a leadership role that helps their companies, helps improve the impact their companies have on the world, and helps improve their career prospects at the same time.  The clear majority of managers studied found themselves stuck in predominantly service and/or governance roles performing standards enforcing tasks or providing resources for people to meet those standards.  Many expressed a desire to take on a leadership role but didn't see a clear way to do so.

Making the Decision To Be a Leader

There are three painful realities about moving from service and governance roles to a leadership role:

1.  No one will tell you to do it.

2.  There will always be people who tell you to stick to the role you are now playing. 

3.  You have to earn the right to play a leadership role, often by succeeding in your current role first--which in turn only increases the expectation that you will keep playing that role.

In every case of successful leadership from below that Kelly and Nadler studied, the manager made a conscious decision to move beyond the service and governance roles, without waiting to be told to do so.  Two key ways to leadership roles are to reorganize your group to make yourself less essential (so you can free up time and energy for leadership) and open yourself up to influences from outside the company (by listening to customers, competitors, suppliers, the media and your personal business coach).

In deciding to take on the risks involved in a leadership role, it helps to understand that failure to lead is also dangerous.  In an age when job cuts are common at even the most successful companies, being a good manager who doesn't make waves is increasingly risky.  Those who take risks are more likely to keep their jobs and to be promoted.

Source: Leading from Below, The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2007 / John G. Agno, Certified Executive & Business Coach