Most managers yearn for that upper promotion that pushes them over the top into the realm of upper management. The obvious draws are a higher salary, increased benefits, and a general feeling of accomplishment at being regarded an authority in your field.
In my experience, some candidates simply aren’t cut out for it while others falter on an otherwise stellar career because of insufficiently-developed skills. If you aspire to senior leadership positions, here are some important considerations that you should factor in.
Promotion to upper management role is an exciting career milestone, bringing with it an increase in pay and prestige but also a host of new challenges. A promotion from middle to upper management is slightly more complicated because it is a transition between tiers. Top management candidates do not have to contend just with a heavier burden of responsibilities but an entirely different set of rules and expectations.
I have seen capable colleagues who excelled at their roles in the intermediate levels of management falter after they were rewarded with promotions to upper management. My own experience was less than ideal.
My colleagues and I managed to gather ourselves and adapt relatively quickly but it wasn’t a deficit of talent or capability that presented the biggest hurdle. Rather, it was the ability to instantly adopt a different mindset.
Understanding Upper Management
The main factor that differentiates upper management from other echelons in the hierarchy of an organisation is oversight. Upper management marks the point where the executive is expected to leave behind hands-on participation in favour of directing the people in hands-on roles.
That is primarily also why so many executives newly-promoted upper management stumble; they are very good at hands-on work but neither familiar with simply overseeing nor eager to do so.
Here is a list of three qualities I see as the distinguishing characteristics of upper management. You won’t necessarily find them in interview questions and answers but you will see them personified in good corporate leaders.
1. Wider perspective
The higher up the ladder you go, the more you can see. Upper management roles are rarely concerned with a single department or section of the organisation’s workforce. Instead, the focus is on how things come together as cogs in a machine. Managers have to evaluate the impact of each decision on the rest of the organisation.
Leadership is all about delegating the right tasks to the right people for the best results. An oft-overlooked aspect of delegation, though, is the delegator’s response when expectations aren’t met. Good leaders will temper their response to their subordinates’ failures with constructive criticism instead of ‘punishment’. Self-confidence and confidence in team members both play a part here.
3. Strategic Mindset
Successful top-level managers leave behind ground-level tactics and embrace strategic thinking. What’s the difference? The first requires that you execute tasks within a limited framework and the latter that you choose the right direction for the company. Strategic thinking revolves around the concept of leading leaders.
Embracing the Role
The transitory period between your old role and your new one is crucial. Some companies even have a dedicated process to help along with the change and give their people the best chances of succeeding in their new positions.
Yes, upper management elevates you above the vast majority of the rest of the organisation. No, it doesn’t mean that it is going to be a clean break. Top managers are most effective when they have feelers all the way down to the grassroots level of the company. Personal connections with, and good regard among lower-level executives is the social lubricant that keeps things flowing smoothly.
A former colleague of mine found this to be true with his first project after a promotion. He was unable to make progress on a particular aspect of the job and reluctantly approached a colleague. Her solution was to simply go to the particular department concerned and strike up an informal chat with the team. My ex-colleague was shocked when the roadblocks cleared virtually immediately after.
Don’t pull rank. Realign and use the personal connections you have nurtured over years.
Everyone is busy in their own roles and will assume that you know yours from Day 1. Colleagues will expect you to slip effortlessly into your predecessor’s shoes while subordinates will look to you immediately for guidance and leadership. The assumption is that you are good to go unless you voice your queries and ask for guidance.
I have had this experience numerous times. My fiercely independent nature compels me to attempt everything on my own. Sometimes I succeed right away and sometimes I do not. In the latter instances, I have found that overcoming my resistance to asking for help is the key. Often, I discover that asking the right questions would have circumvented the majority of the hurdles I encountered.
Maintain your self-confidence and independence but balance them with openness and curiosity when the situation demands it.
Why do you think you were chosen to fill the role ahead of everyone else? It would have been a tight competition with several candidates but the leadership team saw something in you that they found lacking in the others: vision.
Top leaders think differently. They fulfil their roles as doers and then move on to become thinkers. You are no longer being paid to perform an enclosed role; you are expected to innovate, inspire and conceptualise Big Ideas. Excelling at a single project is not the focus anymore, it is the ability to attract bigger projects and more clients.
To achieve this, you need to completely reorganise your brain and think differently. If it makes your head spin, good! Mine did, too, and I learned much more for it.
Being Upper Management
I think the best piece of advice that I received after a major promotion was: Trust yourself.
It dawned on me that I wasn’t randomly chosen or ‘lucky’. The elevation above my peers was a consequence of all the long hours and hard work as well as the self-training and formal training that I invested in myself from my very first day.
No one was doing me a favour. They were entrusting me with a key role because of the value I brought to the company. When you realise your self-worth and that you deserve the chair that you are sitting in, everything else will fall into place.
Check out our career guidance page for more useful lifestyle and career tips!