seedling pot idea

Making the transition from expert to general manager is one of the toughest in the careers of the leaders I coach.

Partly because it’s not just about what more or what else you need to do, it’s also about what you need to give up. And this is generally more challenging.

Here are some of the things you need to give up:

  • Having the (best) answer – it’s your people who are the experts now,
  • Trying to master the subject areas that you are not as familiar with – there’s no way that you can master that much domain specialty and you’ll never know more than your people who have built their expertise over many years (as you did),
  • Diving into the detail – it takes your attention away from the strategic perspective, where you can add best value.

Wanda Wallace and David Creelman’s recent HBR blog on this transition point out the danger of giving in to these temptations:

  • Lack of respect from your people,
  • Your lack of confidence in the detail will show up when you speak with your boss and other senior stakeholders,
  • You’ll be working twice as hard and end up worn out.

All of which can lead to derailment.

They offer four useful pieces of advice:

  • Focus on building relationships, not mastering facts. As Wallace and Creelman put it, “A specialist manager knows what to do; the generalist manager knows who to call.”
  • Add value by enabling things to happen, not doing the work. Work out where there’s trouble, and intervene then. Get feedback from your network so that you know when things are not on track.
  • Focus on the big picture. A tactic they suggest is to take a problem you are focusing on and see how it affects people two levels below you.
  • Rely on executive presence rather than subject knowledge to project confidence. Learn how to: project a relaxed, calm demeanour; keep your conversation focused and to the point; and connect with the audience through sincere emotion.

Advice to increase your executive presence is common. Wallace and Creelman’s advice is sound. But another important element of executive presence is the exercise of power.

One of the best experts to draw attention to power as an important component of executive presence is Amy Cuddy. She has a very popular TED talk that focuses on her research on ‘power posing’.

By assuming a couple of simple, one-minute poses that embody power, people can become more powerful. (By the way, simply watching Cuddy in action is a good demonstration of what executive presence is.) And the good news is that power posing – open, expansive postures – don’t just express power, they actually create power. Power posing displays cause physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes – elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

The feedback I have from the executives I coach is that when they experiment with power posing prior to important conversations and key meetings, their confidence increases, they perform better and they feel more successful.

Transitions to general management can be most effective when you give up being the expert and focus on building your executive presence, using power poses to help you ‘fake it until you make it’.

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