Developing Future Senior Managers

Not many companies make an explicit effort to identify and develop their future general managers—the kinds of leaders who can work across the organization broadly and manage at scale while still being able to engage in details of the business when necessary. Even fewer companies are truly effective at successfully onboarding senior managers from the outside; transitioning executive-level hires presents significant challenges and disappointing success rates.

Do you have the goal of becoming a great general manager? Given the realities of business today, you can’t wait for your organization to identify you via talent assessment processes or deliver general management training to you, and you can’t rely solely on your boss for coaching and mentoring. You need to take charge of your own growth as a leader, with a learning strategy and clear plan of action. The good news is, you don’t need a big budget or elaborate infrastructure to develop yourself—you simply need the willingness to seek out and listen to feedback, and the ability to be reflective about how you can improve. The hardest part is identifying the skills and competencies that you must develop to spur your success.

Over the last several years our colleagues Frank Rouault, Jean Segonds, and Vince Byrne have been taking a hard look at how managers can develop themselves for future senior roles. Their results will be published soon, but meantime they agreed to share some of their insights with our readers.

Frank, Jean, and Vince observed that all managers, whatever their role, develop in three core skill areas: People, Technical, and Networking. Managers develop in these three areas as either a goal or as a consequence of what they do.

1. People Skills: Developing yourself and working effectively with others are essential capabilities for succeeding in today’s rapidly changing organizations. Some of the most talented and technically competent people fail because they lack the people skills required to gain followers and achieve their goals. People Skills include communicating, cooperating, working through conflict, influencing, and coaching.

2. Technical Skills: Technical competency differentiates a manager from her peers and builds market value. Managers must work continuously to contribute to the business, prevent technical obsolescence, and maintain expertise. Technical Skills includes domain-based competence (Finance, Marketing, Supply Chain, Legal, etc.), problem-solving, openness and curiosity, and learning new technologies.

3. Networking Skills: The third lever of success is having a well-established network of qualified colleagues who will take part in mutually beneficial relationships. Networking Skills include identifying such contacts, building relationships, facility with social networks, taking part in associations and groups, board or volunteer work, and meeting clients of clients.

People who succeed and grow as general managers are those who take active responsibility for developing themselves in these three important areas. Following are some focal areas and a few important questions to consider as you reflect on your own practice in developing these important Skills.

People Skills

Focal Areas:
  • Bring the best of yourself: Optimize your qualities, people competencies, and leadership and influencing abilities.
  • Develop the best of others: Optimize others’ qualities, people competencies, and leadership and influencing abilities.
Questions to Consider:
  • What do you do to develop yourself?
  • How do you develop others?
  • What could you do differently or better in your management/leadership practices?
  • How do you build commitment (“hearts and minds”) to the business?
  • Are you a role model?

Technical Skills

Focal Areas:
  • Build business impact: Develop your entrepreneurial skills, and seek new ways to deliver growth and results.
  • Develop expertise and contribution: Seek to deepen experience and technical knowledge that others value.
Questions to Consider:
  • How do you prevent technical obsolescence?
  • How can you build and balance your expertise around key functional areas to drive results (sales and marketing, IT, financial, people development and HR)?
  • How can you inspire innovation within the organization?
  • How do you develop yourself as a thought leader in your field?
  • How do you ensure alignment around core business priorities?

Networking Skills

Focal Areas:
  • Develop a strong network: Construct a diversified and active mutually beneficial network. (“The time to build a network is not when you need one!”)
  • Contribute to the community at large: Give back, and share learnings and expertise with others via boards or volunteer work.
Questions to Consider:
  • How do you build and energize your network?
  • How diverse is your network?
  • How many people do you help out in a given month?
  • Who genuinely wants to see you succeed, and who is prepared to respond quickly to your requests?
  • Who talks about you as an expert or trusted advisor, and for what?

Whatever your current position or career stage, if you want to develop yourself now for a more senior management role in the future, give some thought to the framework above. Are you addressing all the Skills areas? (Many of us tend to focus on just a few.) Who can give you feedback on how you’re doing—and what you can do better? Where and how are you investing in rounding yourself out?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the critical challenge of developing future senior managers—drop us a line at newsletter@nevinsconsulting.com

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
—Thomas Edison