Breaking Through the Invisible Wall

There is an invisible wall in the business world.

People can spend an entire career and never break through that wall. The wall is not about equal opportunity, hiring practices, promotion or selection. Nor is it about gender or age.

No, this wall is about moving from management to leadership.

The Entrepreneur’s Conundrum

The easiest way to explain this wall is to start with an entrepreneur. A solo-preneur; the person who thinks he/she has an idea and wants to start a business.

Let’s say our hero (the start-up entrepreneur) gets some funding and launches the business. In no time, the business starts to make sales and grow. Pretty soon the owner needs to hire some people to help fill all the orders, make more widgets or whatever they are doing. They need more people. Now they have a team running. The first experience is to manage the process. The owner has to show everyone how to do or make the things you meant to do in the business. Your idea as the entrepreneur has to get communicated, trained and shared with others to let the business grow. As the Manager, you track the numbers, bank the revenue, make the deposits and pay for expenses.

Things seem to be going OK. You survived the start-up phase.

New Opportunities

As the business grows, you have to grow with it. More resources, bigger payrolls, larger space, etc. But the owner seldom thinks about growing their own ability to manage the business. The thinking goes something like this.

“What I did before got us here, I’ll do more of that, and we’ll be fine.”

That works for a little while longer, but the business still keeps growing. Now it’s become a full-sized enterprise with layers of management, division of teams for specialized skills, and other expanding roles.

The Thirst for Leadership

Somewhere in between that expansion phase and the enterprise phase, the invisible wall takes shape. As the company grows, so does the wall. What used to be decent management starts to have problems. The old ways to push people and materials don’t work anymore.

It’s not the people or the business, it’s the owner’s capacity to lead that is crumbling.

This new entity that is the company is hungry for leadership. Not more management; bona fide leadership. Leadership has to step in and take over.

As Monte Pendleton, Silver Fox Advisor, and founding member states;

There is no particular time table for these stages. But the ending of Stage 1 usually becomes apparent when the requisite managerial skills begin to change. The very personality, skills, and capabilities that allowed you to succeed as a Stage 1 entrepreneur or start-up owner/operator, now become detrimental to you in the latter stages.

When the wall becomes apparent, you have some choices to consider.

First, you could decide to quit growing; stay the size you are, and keep doing the same things. Or, you can choose to modify your management style and press on toward the next phase. Hire a coach or an advisor to guide you through the changes needed to break through the wall. Lastly, you might choose to replace yourself with someone who has better leadership skills and experience, allowing you to revert to the core talent and gifts/specialties you started with.

If all else fails, sell the business at its then market value and go fishing. (I digress).

Bigger Enterprise

I dedicate my coaching practice to owners and executives who are right at the wall. There are senior managers everywhere who still need to embrace the reality of the presence of the wall. Believe it or not, a wall always exists between the stage of the business unit you run and your ability to lead.

I’ve said it many times before, a good manager can have a long and successful career never being more than a manager. Turn the screws, meet the deadlines, ship those deliverables and do it through strong management skills; these can be a nice career. However, for the good of the growth of the enterprise, you need to become a leader. If you already know something about leadership, be a better leader.

Monte states “Leadership is the ability to cause others to take action even when the action is outside their comfort zone.”

Dave Guerra in his book “Superperforming” says “Management is about process and leadership is about people.”

I love that explanation. So true.

Think about your situation right now. It doesn’t matter whether you own the business or run a large team/division inside one. Ask yourself, “where is my wall?”

Question: Have you broken through the wall, realizing the need for leadership over management?

Doug Thorpe
Doug Thorpehttps://www.headwayexec.com/
With 25+ years in executive leadership, Doug is a been-there-done-that kind of leader. He has senior management experience in all major sectors; the military, Fortune 500, entrepreneurial, and non-profit. He has also enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, building several companies and non-profits. Doug’s clients realized significant cost savings, more effective operations, and higher profitability by using his business expertise. Doug provides executive coaching and business consulting services for executives and owners seeking fresh ideas for development of C-suite talent, high potential leaders, and team development. His firm is Headway Executive Coaching. Doug is the author of The Uncommon Commodity.

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Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler

Doug — I’m with you on most of this. Not every manager can make the transition to leadership regardless of support. As you said, “…a good manager can have a long and successful career never being more than a manager.” Pushing them into a leadership position where they lack the temperament and DNA is pushing them toward the “Peter Principle.”

Management and leadership are different. They call for different skill sets and somewhat different mentalities. I say “somewhat” because I don’t know if I would draw a hard line about process and people ala “Management is about process and leadership is about people.” I’ve worked for and witnessed managers who were all about process, and they created a sterile almost lifeless environment. “Get the work done.” And I’ve worked for and witnessed leaders who were just about people. Some were authentic and created a passion-filled environment. Others came across more as cheerleaders who used a lot of phrases I would associate more with inspirational wall posters. “You guys are great!”

Maybe there has to be a blend? Managers are 75/25 process to people, and leaders are 25/75 process to people? The figures are totally subjective and meant more for illustration.

Good, thought-provoking piece.

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