The training we receive in our formative years has a powerful influence on us as adults. The ways we learn to win as we are starting out tend to shape our view of how success is attained. The only problem with this is that as you become more successful, the rules for future success change. Unless you learn the keys to succeeding at higher levels, your progress is destined to come to a screeching halt.
Individual contributor – When I give her a job, I know it will get done
When we start out, it is important to understand how to become a successful individual contributor. Individual contributors are those who can master a task well. When given a goal and parameters, they are technically competent and understand all the details on how to accomplish it. Demonstrating mastery of the technical skills of delivering the product or service is key to advancement.
Supervisor – If someone else doesn’t know how to do it, she will be sure to fill in the gaps
As you move into a supervisory role, technical competence is still very important but supporting others in their development and execution of the technical skills is of greater importance. It is no longer acceptable to just be able to do everything yourself. In fact, if you are still the most technically competent person in your group at accomplishing a product or service delivery task, the chances are slim that you will be considered for higher levels of success. Talent management and development is critical here.
Manager – Given a vision, she’ll figure out the specific goals that need to be accomplished
Once you reach the managerial levels, your need for technical competence is less important than your organizational development skills. A deep understanding of the product or service is necessary so the appropriate resources and tactics can be deployed to accomplish the mission and goals established for the organization. Being able to make the translation from idea to implementation sets people apart at this level.
Executive – Sets a vision, motivates others to perform
At the executive level, it’s all about establishing and championing a vision, then creating the environment that is conducive to the individuals in the organization succeeding at their tasks. Finding the right balance of the things that must be “held tight” or mandated from the top versus those things that can be “held loosely” or determined at lower levels of the organization is critical to success.
At this most senior level is where many people fail most quickly. While they have more positional power than ever before, using it regularly to micro-manage the organization can unravel their success quickly. Relying instead on leadership influence and motivation to encourage the best performance out of everyone in the organization is a better approach that is radically different from the skills required to be successful at any other level on the climb to the top.
Learn the rules
The best way to win at anything is to have a clear understanding of the rules of engagement. As you become more successful, it is important not to assume the same rules apply. Take the time to learn what is required to be successful, develop new skills if necessary, and play to win.