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Two paths leading to an enhanced role

​A goal for most professionals is to grow into elevated roles. These could be roles leading teams, new initiatives, or both and carrying more responsibility (prestige/money) than what they have currently.

When hiring or promoting an individual to a role with greater responsibility, the organization is also putting him/her in a position of greater trust – of a higher level of performance and of taking a bigger role in fostering organization goals.

Attributes which management looks at in potential leaders

Some key attributes which come into consideration when assessing candidates for leadership are:

  1. A track record of consistent good performance.

  2. Understanding of the organization, its dynamics and hence able to perform effectively as part of it.

  3. Someone who the organization can trust.

  4. Assurance of continuity and commitment to the organization.

  5. Relevant functional specialization to be effective in the role and earn the respect of the team

Attributes which teams look at in potential leaders

Being successful in a leadership role goes beyond the skills of the leader. The leader represents the collective efforts of a team and his/her success rests on the success of the team. Therefore a key goal for the leader is to be able to bring out the best in his team.

Teams tend to give their best for leaders who:

  1. Have their back, someone they can trust.

  2. Are competent in their function or specialization, relate to the work which the team does, and can be a coach - someone who they look up to.

  3. Can network internally to ensure that organizational resources required for the team to function effectively are made available.

  4. Represent the team well as its spokesperson.

  5. Treat team members with respect and share credit for good performance.

Some of these criteria are company neutral while there are others which are experienced over continued association. It’s only employees within a company who can demonstrate the latter since their performance and way of working have been experienced by management and teams. In the two lists above, the factors which are company neutral are in regular font while those which favor existing employees are italicized.

As evident from the lists, many of the criteria favor those who are known demonstrated organizational knowledge and commitment to it. This tilts the scale towards existing employees when it comes to filling senior roles and those which carry greater responsibility. It is often said that “If an existing employee is 70% ready, give them the open higher role than bring someone from outside”

How to move laterally into an elevated role?

If the odds favor incumbents, how can someone moving laterally also get an enhanced role?

In the lists above, there are two attributes which someone from outside the organization can also bring and if these are significant enough, they can tilt the odds in favor of the outsider. These two company neutral criteria are depth of specialization and track record of performance.

Two situations where this can happen are:

The company lacks the skill/specialization in-house and is looking to build it. Examples of this are companies expanding into new markets or new lines of service/product. Alternatively, it could be the need to induct expertise in a new functional area like new regulation or technology. Companies looking to seed/grow in new country markets may hire local talent in positions of leadership. An example of acquiring functional specialization is auto / manufacturing companies looking to assimilate digital technologies bringing in leaders from Silicon Valley to lead their digital initiatives.

The other situation is when a company has a line of business (or function) which is struggling. Most companies will attribute the lack of performance / success to the incumbent leader and teams. This perception of lack of internal competence neutralizes the incumbency advantage and opens doors for leaders from outside. This is what the likely background is of a press headline - "Widget Company hires turnaround leader".

In both situations, there are certain key skills missing in the organization and they are going outside for talent to help them improve performance. Reciprocally, someone joining the company from outside to build a fledgling initiative (or turn one around) will want to see an incentive to do so and oftentimes that incentive is in the form of an elevated role (and compensation).

In Closing

To be successful in our quest for an elevated role with higher responsibility two paths which could take us there are:

Demonstrate commitment and loyalty to an organization by building tenure. Put in the effort to be a consistent performer, with good knowledge of your functional area, and a team player. Network within the firm with leaders to let them know your aspiration. These put you in the front of the line when positions open up for role elevations.

Become a specialist in a functional area. Proactively scout for companies which are looking to build competency in that area, or need to elevate the performance of an existing group. Actively look for these firms and demonstrate that bringing you on board will help accomplish their goals better, faster or both.

Keep swinging!

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