Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments. The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing. It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line. You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination. In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one. You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water. The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.
Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks. But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills. Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills. Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.
The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others. Those are the skills of the expert. You need new skills – skills for leading people. The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.
Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again. Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert. You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.
And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more. Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent. Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times. Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone. Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack. They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles. They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change. Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.