All leadership transitions are challenging, however the transition to CEO or GM offers some particularly difficult challenges. Whilst researchers’ views on how many leadership levels exists varies, all agree that one of the levels / transitions is the move from a functionally based role to a general management or enterprise level. This move from the head of a function to GM or CEO, where you are responsible for all the business functions, is considered one of the toughest.
In all leadership transitions there is the requirement to let go of certain skills and adopt new ones. CEO’s and GM’s who struggle with this often revert back to their ‘comfort skill set’ and try to lead from a functional instead of a strategic perspective. Acknowledging the requirement to take a more strategic role, some leaders resist due a fear that they will lose control.
It is not uncommon for the power base in functional leadership roles to be based around the leaders’ knowledge and skills often leading to a more authoritarian style. However general management leadership is ‘influence’ based. There is a strong temptation to fall back on your historical strengths, especially under pressure.
The key is to let go of the control and manage by influence instead. This is helped by learning to trust others, delegating responsibility, drawing on the strengths of your team and quickly realising that not only will you be ineffective if you try to do everything yourself – that it is physically and mentally impossible at your new leadership level.
Leaders who make the conscious decision to empower their teams, step back and patiently wait for them to perform the task – free themselves up to focus on the strategic issues. Ultimately though, you still take the total ownership of any outcomes, just not complete control of the process.