Sunday, August 23, 2015

How to be considered more than a lightweight

As I get older, I realise that through my life when I thought I was playing with the big boys they really just patting me on the head and letting me run with busy work. At some point where I was managing millions of dollars of sales accounts they expected me to be more than just an enthusiastic, well meaning amateur. Results really began to matter. And that was a challenge because I didn't even know what it meant to play like a grown up in the business world.

These days I have 35 year old middle managers study an MBA course under me. Most of them have learnt these things through osmosis, but sometimes I get an electrician who has just been promoted to section manager and they can use these points.

So in order to be considered a serious player you should:

Think more than a few weeks ahead
The level in a management tree is directly related to how forward looking they need to be. A leading hand on a factory floor needs to be concerned about today's production, or the week's. A senior manager is trying to get ahead of next year's challenges. How do senior managers deal with this week's problem? They don't - they deal with this week next year's problem. How? They write policy, they prepare budgets and they give their line managers the tools to do their job. If you're dealing with this week's challenges then you're a senior manager in name only.

Know who your business's customers and stakeholders are
The only reason a business, or a not for profit, or a horseriding club, has a reason to exist is for its customers. So you need to have a crystal clear idea who those people are. And if they're not customers but they're in the mix, then they're stakeholders - and if they're not on your radar you're acting like a line supervisor, not a senior manager.

Understand the value your business creates
Those customers are only having anything to do with your because you solve a problem for them. Perhaps your business provides them raw materials, distributes their product or gives advice. Why on earth are they paying you money? The best managers know they live and die by their customers remaining perfectly clear on why they're together.

Be honest with yourself
How did that meeting go? Well? Does the other party think so? The worst and most amateurish managers I know will leave a meeting saying "that went well" while the other party is hatching sophisticated plans to break out at some time later. "I'm a pretty good leader - not great, but good. Aren't I" is the saddest question I've ever had a boss ask me. I just knew they hadn't grown beyond an adolescent level of self understanding.

Remain fresh, and know when it's time to quit
Quit this one and start kicking goals somewhere else. After a while, people start getting sick of you and you should be moving on. Don't be afraid - there are dozens of opportunities and the people who worry about the future have every reason to. If you don't reinvent yourself or move on - even in the same position - people will take stronger and stronger steps to remove you. They should. If you really are learning and growing, you will never have to face that pain.

So, 25 years ago when I had bosses tell me that I lacked maturity I didn't know what they meant. I do now. You may be 53 years old and still be not be ready for any real responsibility. Just check the items above.


  1. Wow Cullen,

    great post. Saved for future reference.


  2. So very true. A good summary of really relevant points.