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Five top tips you need as you step up to senior management

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At Henley Business School, the all-new Executive Management Programme addresses the issues that make this transition easier, and Programme Director, Narendra Laljani has some practical advice for anyone who has recently found themselves in such a position.

Step back and see the bigger picture

‘When anyone is promoted into a senior role, they are naturally keen to make an impact, acquire new skills, and help to shape the company’s strategy. But self-doubt often kicks in – it’s classic imposter syndrome – and people find themselves in a role for which they may be ill-prepared, and they are fearful of being exposed.

‘It’s important to remember that whilst you have a certain skillset that earned you the right to take your place at the senior table, you can’t be expected to have all the answers; it takes time. You need to step back, reflect and learn new ways of thinking and behaving.’

Get a broader spread of views

Whilst it’s easy to criticise senior management when viewing it from below, once you find yourself up there, you become aware of the reasons why things happen – or don’t happen – the way you thought they should.

‘Reconciling a wider range of perspectives from different people on any issue, each of whom may present compelling logic for their views is a real challenge, but there are strategies you can use to make this transition easier, and by actively involving stakeholders and team members in a more consultative capacity you can help to manage expectations, and build constructive relationships.’

Moving from the department, to being the leader

Another common scenario is the team member promoted into a leadership role. One minute, you’re friends; the next, you’re the boss. Resentment often surfaces.

‘Leadership can be lonely. And it requires clear thinking, courage, compassion and resilience to recalibrate your relationships with former peers. You have to focus on the team’s performance rather than on your own; inspire them, and create an environment in which they excel.

‘But for many senior managers, the most dreaded task is managing the exit of a former colleague. Difficult conversations can take an enormous emotional toll, and unless you are prepared for it, this ‘soft stuff’ is usually much harder to deal with than the harder, functional elements of the role.’

Think – and speak – differently

‘You’ll need to start thinking in a more structured, strategic way, which can be especially challenging when you’re thrown into a more complex and often turbulent situation.

‘You also need to develop a heightened awareness of how other people perceive you, and understand that what (you think) you say isn’t always what is heard.’

Learning to be a better leader

Learning to be more reflective, especially when faced with adversity and setbacks, and managing your own learning, ensures that you develop into a more agile and productive leader.

‘So much can be achieved if new appointees are aware of the pitfalls, and have the knowledge and skills to address them with confidence. On the EMP programme, we help people to become more self-aware, and identify areas for improvement.

‘In the same way that organisations that learn faster than their rivals gain a competitive advantage, so do people. How do we achieve that on the EMP programme? Well, none of us ever learned to ride a bicycle from a video; it takes time and practice, and that’s what we give people.’

Find out more about the Executive Management Programme here.

Dr Narendra Laljani

Executive Fellow
Published 12 October 2020

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