The 6 Leadership Passages: What You Need to Know

Al Schnur
by Al Schnur

Al has personally conducted more than 5,000 high-level evaluations during his career, and is particularly proud that more than 250,000 candidates have participated in assessment programs he designed. At present, Al focuses on C-level succession planning and assessment in support of CEOs, Boards and other high-level stakeholders.

Putting up a building starts with a blueprint and moves through a series of stages. You can’t skip one along the way—such as properly installing electrical wiring in the walls—without reducing the overall quality of the finished product.

The same holds true for leaders.

As a leader progresses from new manager to CEO—if that progression happens, of course—he or she goes through a number of “leadership passages.”

1. From Managing Self to Managing Others

Every employee starts out as an individual contributor. When they build broader skills and produce good results in this role, they are often promoted to a position where they manage a team.

But managing others requires learning how to delegate responsibilities, assign work, plan, coach and motivate team members, and evaluate performance. Without a shift in focus from cultivating individual success to team success, a new leader simply won’t succeed.

2. From Managing Others to Managing Managers

At a certain point, a leader must transition from focusing on their individual role to looking at the bigger picture. This requires taking on a pure management role and shedding the focus on individual contributions. Pure managers should concern themselves with supporting the whole organization by developing leaders who are just setting out on their own series of leadership passages.

3. From Managing Managers to Becoming a Functional Manager

Functional management requires that leaders learn how to manage areas outside their individual expertise for the first time.

This means becoming more strategic in decision making and blending their own functional strategy with the organization’s overall business strategy.

4. From Functional Manager to Business Manager

Business managers have a greater degree of autonomy than functional managers. They also need to develop major new skills that broaden their vision. Business managers must move from simply understanding other functions to integrating them. They must make decisions while considering a functional perspective, a profitability perspective, and a long-term viability perspective.

5. From Business Manager to Group Manager

More so than other leadership passages, a radical shift in thinking is required when moving from business manager to group manager. A business manager typically only values the success of their own business. A group manager must value the success of other people and their businesses. A group manager should support business managers under them and take a holistic managerial view. This can be done by evaluating strategy, coaching business managers, assessing portfolio strategy and assessing core capabilities.

6. From Group Manager to Enterprise Manager

Values, rather than skills, take center stage through this last of the six leadership passages. An enterprise manager must become a long-term visionary thinker and problem-solver. The nuts and bolts are still important, but leaders at this stage must be able to see the whole picture and make decisions that will steer the entire organization in a positive direction.

Leadership Passages: Why They Matter

These leadership passages can’t be moved through quickly, and the skills needed to transition through them can’t be learned in a classroom.

The fact that leaders need to move through them methodically can be frustrating—especially if you’re struggling to fill an executive position and thinking about promoting within.

But it’s important to understand that promoting a leader beyond his or her level of competence is the very definition of the Peter Principle. Rush someone through the six leadership passages and you put your company at risk.

And you do so in more ways than you might imagine. Since leaders usually make decisions about promotions under them, it stands to reason that if you promote someone who doesn’t understand what’s required of them in a leadership position, they’ll probably repeat that same mistake that brought them there as they fill the leadership pipeline below them.
Respect and understand the six leadership passages, however, and you’ll be better able to help the leaders in your organization move through them—and maybe even become a better leader yourself.

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