From Value Creator to Game Changer - IEDP
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From Value Creator to Game Changer

Linda Hill on the transition to senior management


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The transition to senior management is a difficult one. One of the principal challenges being that it involves a change from making an individual contribution to an organisational one.

Linda Hill, professor of Business Administration and Chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, was presenting at a lunch event in London last week on her insights on Becoming the Boss, the title of her new book with Kent Lineback.

The key barriers to business success are well rehearsed – the focus around complexity and speed of change. The stock response to this, and Hill did not refute its importance, is the need for innovation in organisations, but she recognises that many high potential fail to reach their potential for themselves and their organisations becoming ‘stalled or getting derailed at great personal cost and cost to their companies’.

So what makes the difference between a good manager and a great boss? Hill has used a model on business alignment that interconnects seven attributes required to enable an organisation to work effectively – all fortuitously beginning with S!

Hill asserts that it is the soft S’s not the hard ones that create competitive advantage. Ultimately it is the people who create and, more crucially, execute strategy and systems that make the difference. The ‘bosses’ need to build the senior teams to manage these complex organisations and to manage the teams bosses need to be ‘T-shaped’. That is they must have both depth and breadth. Most managers have depth, it is their success in their field that has brought them to notice, but until you get to a senior management role breadth is less important. However, it becomes a critical necessity when the organisational contribution is required to be made.

The depth element creates value and is ‘a necessary pre-requisite’ to being promoted but it clearly is not enough. To be a successful senior manager, a boss, Hill shows you need to be ‘a game-changer’. She explains that game-changers are people ‘who can identify the gaps between where we are and we could be and who understand how to close those gaps’. The ability to close these ‘opportunity gaps’ as Morgan W McCall Jr of University of Souther California’s Marshall School put it.

Hill believes there are three imperatives to becoming a game-changer:

·         Managing yourself

·         Managing your team

·         Managing your networks

The third of these is often the differentiator between good and great bosses. Managing yourself is no easy task, but it is well-understood and there are plenty of executive development programs devoted to improving this skill. Similarly with managing your team. But managing networks is something until now often over-looked as a core leadership skill, but nonetheless it is intuitively well-understood and accepted .

It is axiomatic, everyone understands that business, rightly or wrongly, is done best ‘not by what you do but who you know’. In times of crisis you want the person ‘who knows who can solve the problem’ to be in charge.

Hill has identified three networks that people require to be game-changing bosses:

The Strategic Network is the one that helps managers identify performance and opportunity gaps

The Operational Network enables them to close those gaps

The Developmental Network allows managers to develop themselves and builds credibility and increases authority.

Hill closed with the thought that it is very difficult to build a meritocratic global organisation as ultimately people with higher profiles, that is better networks, are more visible and more likely to be selected for roles regardless of whether they are the best person for the job. In smaller organisations people’s impact can be assessed much more on merit than profile. But that networked profile has an enormous value – it is the breadth element that ultimately trumps the depth.


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