Reaching management level in business won’t guarantee big bucks, a corner office or even a really nice chair. The hours are long and the pressure rises with increased responsibilities and expectations.

However, good leaders can make or break a team, and it’s the mix of risk, visibility and impact that makes it compelling to those who are driven to pursue management or executive level positions.

Are you boss material?

If you’re considering a management position, figure out if you’re boss material before jumping into a race for a promotion. Being in charge isn’t all catered meetings and cushy off-site seminar accommodations.

It does have some downsides. For instance, there’s no assurance of more money, and technical or sales people can see their pay goes down with their first promotion.

Climbing the ladder
  • Are you boss material?
  • Get training and practice
  • Understand the big picture
  • Strive for higher levels of success
  • Decide whether to MBA or not to MBA

“If you just want to go into management because you just think, well, I’ll have more status or power, that’s really not a good motivation,” says Marshall Goldsmith, executive consultant and author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”

“You want to go into management because you really enjoy the process of leading people. If you don’t know, do you think you’ll enjoy the process of leading people?” he says.

Just as star athletes may not make the best coaches, the top employees don’t always make the best managers.

To help employees succeed, stellar interpersonal skills are vital. Managers must be able to effectively coach people and communicate their ideas.

“It’s a big transition from being a great achiever to leading. You may be technically gifted, you may be an athlete in any number of different fields, but you have to transition to a role where your job is no longer to be the star but to help others be a star,” says Goldsmith.

But that doesn’t mean only the glib smooth-talkers can climb into the executive ranks. Communication skills can be learned.



Get training and practice

People who are innately at ease in social settings may have an easier time with all the personal interaction and talking — and listening — required of managers, but the basic formula can be learned and, more importantly, practiced.

“It would be ideal if management candidates had a mentor that they could learn from. Most of the people that come to us, come for that very reason — for formal training. These behaviors don’t happen on their own,” says Manny Avramidis, senior vice president for global human resources at the American Management Association.

Beyond working and learning settings, manager hopefuls can put themselves in situations to rehearse interpersonal skills and leadership behaviors.

For instance, an organization called Toastmasters helps neophytes and experts alike in honing their communication skills.

“Anything you can do to put yourself in a leadership mode. It could be church, a charity or a nonprofit. Anything you do to give yourself practice will be good for two reasons. It will help you develop your skills and help you determine if this is something that you really should be doing,” says author and executive consultant Marshall Goldsmith.

Understand the big picture

Besides being good at schmoozing the bigwigs, which never hurts, employees looking to move up the ladder should show an interest in how the business works beyond their own little niche.

“In my experience, the folks who exhibit a curiosity about the industry, the company, the customer base and try to develop a sound understanding of how it all ties in usually have a significant advantage when it comes time to be promoted to manager or leader,” says Manny Avramidis of the American Management Association.

Managerial traits
Employers look for these definitive qualities when assessing potential managers, according to Stuart Crandell, senior vice president and practice leader at Personnel Decisions International, or PDI, a human resources consulting firm.
  • Intellectual capacity — problem solving ability.
  • Open to feedback.
  • Driven and motivated.
  • Level of personal maturity and air of confidence — emotional resilience.
  • Interpersonal impact.
  • Organizational ability.

Knowing what your customers want, how the business works and the major players in the industry will help you land a higher level position and it will also help you do the job once you’re there.



Strive for higher levels of success

Besides polishing up their communication skills, workers gunning for management positions should also position themselves for challenges. Let the boss know you’d like to stretch yourself a little.

According to PDI surveys, success at certain challenges predicts success at higher levels of responsibility. PDI surveys thousands of leaders per year, from first-level supervisors to senior executives.

“We have found that there are some kinds of experiences that successful leaders have in their career that are more developmentally potent,” says Crandell.

“If people can handle those well, they develop the kinds of skills that help them succeed, not just in their current role but at subsequent levels as well,” he says.

Ambitious workers who desire to move up should let their superiors know — through their actions. Start by going to management and asking for further education or further development.

“Always look to go above and beyond by either asking to be part of project teams or by taking on assignments that stretch the individual’s capabilities and have them learn new things,” says Avramidis.

“What happens then is, although they are doing a specific job, all of the extracurricular activities are preparing them for the next step.

From lower to upper echelons, supervisor to CEO
Cross-functional experiences that are prevalent for first-level leader success include:
  • Standardizing processes and procedures within or across organizational units.
  • Improving the quality of products or services.
  • Managing projects and teams that include participants from a number of units or functions throughout the organization.

Challenging experiences that are prevalent for mid-level leader success include:

  • Involvement in turning around a struggling organizational unit.
  • Helping to negotiate a labor agreement.
  • Helping an employee overcome performance difficulties.

High-risk experiences that are prevalent for director- or executive-level success include:

  • Resolving a crisis situation requiring immediate action.
  • Restructuring of business investments and/or debt.
  • Starting up a new department, division or function.
Source: PDI

“If they simply choose to do their job and wait for someone to just come tap them on the shoulder and move them up, it’s not likely to happen,” he says.



Decide whether to MBA or not to MBA

Most fantastically successful people don’t stumble into their life path, and CEOs are no different. Their accomplishments are usually the result of long-held goals and a commitment to becoming a leader.

“Typically CEOs are people who are well-educated, intelligent, driven to achieve and they are people who like to influence others and do meaningful and significant things,” says Marshall Goldsmith, executive consultant and author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”

That said, they are not necessarily all in possession of a master’s degree from business school. In 2006, BusinessWeek reported that fewer than one in three chief executives has an MBA.

While an MBA may not put you at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, it can be a foot in the door for an initial management position.

Whether an MBA is necessary has been debated for years, says American Management Association’s Manny Avramidis.

“I will say that if two candidates with identical resumes — with the exception that one had an MBA — applied for the same management job, the one with the MBA will have a better chance of being hired. In general, all else being equal, an MBA or any advanced education can prove to be very helpful in someone’s career,” he says.

An advanced degree can be helpful and if it’s from a top-rated school, an MBA can even be a golden ticket into management — but where you go once you’re in is largely up to you.

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