with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In today’s minisode, I’m going to dive into some reasons for why so many people struggle with the shift from a technical, hands-on role into a leadership role, and how you as their leader can ensure a more smooth transition.

The reality is that a lot of leaders are promoted based on their technical abilities and not so much on their leadership capabilities, the misconception being that you ‘earn your stripes’ through being hands-on and experienced. This approach so often leads to poor outcomes and staff turnover, and for the promoted person feeling hopelessly out of their depth.

Chief, this is the very reason that we started Chief Maker; we found so many great leaders who were just awesome technically, but as they rose up through the ranks, they just started to hit this incredible wall. They became overwhelmed, stressed and lacked influence, and they couldn't get results.

As your people go through their career, they start out in very simple, short-term roles. It's likely they've had three to four years of training so they have been in-depth at this simple kind of job. Now, as anyone goes through their career, if they do a good job, technically they will rise out of that bottom level position and they go up a level, maybe to supervisor. They do a great job there and a couple of years later, they become a manager and do a great job there, then become General Manager, then C Suite.

But what is actually going on here? A huge number of people are getting into what we call a bit of a valley of despair in their career. They've stalled, they lack influence and the company doesn't get the results they wanted from this individual any longer. And it's painful for them because I suspect, in their heart, they know they can be doing a better job and perhaps even their hopes and dreams are being dashed, but they can't really admit it in an open forum.

So what do we really need to consider? Let me just talk about the two big things that will make an enormous difference for your technical leaders in helping them shift to these strategic-level roles.

The struggle of the switch to a strategic role

Chief, just by definition, you actually start to work on the business in these senior roles; you're no longer working on individual jobs and instead you're working on projects that have long timespans, such as six months, one year, two years. Things like business improvement programs with complex system design where you have to develop a process that has the people element in it. And human beings are very complex!

Also, as you get higher up in an organisation, the number of people you have to be across and the number of relationships, and the number of stakeholders you have to manage, grows and grows. You go from having a simple one-to-one relationship with your peers to now a relationship where you have to coach and develop and mentor people. So now you're coaching, developing, mentoring, managing stakeholders, doing system design…none of which you are taught in your early years of professional development! So, as leaders, you need to recognise that when you're bringing someone up through the ranks and they're not performing, it should be entirely predictable as to why that’s the case.

Firstly, it’s probably a given that they've got good subject matter expertise. They're good technically or they wouldn't have got to the level they're at. However, technical expertise is not valid in most of the leadership positions because once they get to General Manager level, they're probably leading teams who have a greater technical expertise in their roles than they do so they're having to lead now by process rather than content.

So, to help your up-and-coming leaders with this transition, we’re going to focus on the two most important processes a strategic level leader needs to master: personal and executive excellence, and leading a high performance team, as we can see in the image below:

Personal and executive excellence: GREAT Method

The reason you need this is because every level you go up, you have to reinvent yourself. You have to have a much deeper sense or understanding of your own personal history, your identity, be aware of your biases because that plays out every single day and plays a big role in your ability to maintain flow and be resilient. The more we master and we have to reinvent ourselves at an individual level, the better equipped we are to actually lead.

At Chief Maker, we call this the GREAT Method. This is about what you or your people need to be able to master at an individual level to have executive mastery.

The foundational elements are three big things: identity, awareness and your story. This is at the heart of what it means to be a great leader. Do you understand your deep identity, who you are, what makes you tick, your personal values, your purpose in life? Are you connected to your Inner Chief? Are your leaders connected to that?

Second, we need to be aware of our psychology, aware of our personality, perhaps our strengths and our weaknesses, aware of our personal shadow. The more we are aware of how our psychology is playing a role every day, the more we can control it, or live with it and grow with it and mature with it.

And the third is your story, which is all the things that have happened in your life that have shaped you, evolved you, brought you to where you are now, in whatever level of psychological comfort you're in. That is your story. No-one else has that story. No leader, no other person has that very unique and special story.

And when you understand these three in unison, you actually start to be at a place where you can enter the world with a level of personal strength and resilience and flow because you operate with a greater sense of personal understanding. So when a leader enters a senior role and they have these three in place, they're now set up to execute on the GREAT Method: Game plan, Routines, Entourage, Assets, and Track record.

Game plan consists of things like “Your boss is your number one customer” and “What is your career plan for continuing to make yourself more valuable in the market?”

Routines are the habits, the personal operating rhythm that drives great success for leaders. As people move from a technical to a strategic role, the routines have got to change because now they're dealing with more broad, more complex issues, and they've got teams to look after.

Entourage is the linchpin. They've got to look after this broad network of relationships across a business and outside, such as suppliers, customers, mentors, coaches, the people that report to them, and of course, home. Any leader in a strategic role that doesn't have a strong set of relationships, they're in big trouble.

Assets are your skills and technical ability in order to do the current job you're at. As I said before, we might spend three to four years learning our initial technical role. Now we're in more senior roles developing more high impact, more high stakes kind of work.

Finally, you need to help your leaders to build their Track records as this will give them real confidence. Every time they come up from one level to the next, they've got to rebuild that track record and keep working on it.

When you have authentic leaders who are constantly evolving on an individual basis, they shift into strategic roles a lot more smoothly.

How do you lead your people?

Next you must teach your leaders what we call the five pillars of a High Performance Team: People, Mission, Culture, Tools, Execution.

People – do they have the ability and the skill, and have you taught them how to get the right person in the right role to develop them one-to-one and help them grow and create the right role statement for them? If they don't, as a leader in a strategic role, they're going to be hamstrung by their people.

Do they know how to create the Mission? They might be able to run a small project, but can they develop a strategy that is cross-functional, that works with their peers, that connects to the company purpose and the company vision? Does their team have some clarity around its vision and goals steeped in a bigger purpose? That's a really important skill for your leaders to have. If they can't do that, they can't be strategic. 

Culture – can they unite a team? Can they build trust and create that level of accountability and psychological safety where a team can really thrive and grow and challenge each other in really, really proactive ways?

Has their team got all the Tools such as the hardware, software, scoreboards and reporting in order to do their job? Are the relevant metrics in place, are they timely and accurate?

And lastly, can they Execute on the above plans, in an environment that is already complex, organic and moving? Can they create that operating rhythm that drives success? Can they manage risk? Can they course-correct? Can they communicate properly upwards and downwards?

Where problems occur in promoting leaders

Chief, we often assume people can do all of the above. My experience is that almost no-one can without learning how to do so. One of the great pitfalls is that we just throw them in the deep end and assume they're going to swim. And when they fail, we go, “Oh, well, they just weren’t up to it. They hit their glass ceiling.”

And my belief is that it is simply not true. As leaders, if we're going to demonstrate and help people lift up to this strategy level, we have to give them these skills so they can do it. It's not an easy process. It can take years and years of trial and error. And on your part, as you're developing the next future generation of leaders that will come after you, don't forget that is your legacy. That is the one thing you're going to leave behind.


So, Chief, the above we teach in the Chief Maker Academy, through the Mini MBA in Leading High Performance Teams. It’s an in-depth course we run over 12 weeks with a whole bunch of other awesome executives from around the world.

And of course, my book, Chief Maker, is all about the GREAT Method, which I think is just never taught for some reason, but it's so, so important.

Deal hope,