How leadership qualities change at different levels

As one goes from becoming a team leader to a departmental head, and finally a CXO, the behaviours or skills required from one keep changing

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All leaders who reach the top of their careers go through many stages of leadership before achieving the top spot. In all these stages or phases of the corporate journey, these leaders are required to demonstrate different kinds of leadership skills. In fact, whenever one goes up a notch on the corporate ladder, there is a change in the requirements and skills that one is expected to demonstrate.

Typically, the first step of leadership begins when one is appointed the team leader of a small cohort. With time, one grows and goes on to manage larger teams, and then groups of teams before eventually becoming the leader of leaders. Going from a team leader to a departmental head and finally a CXO, at all these stages, the behaviours or skills required from a person are different. The expectations are never constant, but keep changing and one just needs to adapt.

Manoj Rajimwale, group CHRO, Endurance Technologies, describes the different levels of leadership roles that a person starts with. As a young fresher, one is just an individual contributor in the company.

Individual growth

Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions, explains that at the entry level, one grows as an individual, for which the right foundation is required. He shares that when he started off as a young professional he used to pen down all the tasks for the day and complete them. This is a habit he continues and finds useful even today. The first step of the leadership ladder comes when one becomes a team lead, with the responsibility to manage a group of 10-12 people. When one is an individual contributor, one is just responsible for what one does. However, when one is managing others, the responsibility to get the work done by the others is also becomes one’s own. In this role, HR leaders feel, one wears the hat of a supervisor, which makes it essential for one to be an expert at one’s domain knowledge to be able to lead others.

“When the number of team members grows, it is more difficult to micromanage. Here, indirect management has to be practised. One cannot talk to everyone or interact with each person on a one-to-one basis”

Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions

“In this first step of leadership one enjoys the liberty to make personal relationships with the team members and micromanage things. One has the time to get into every issue, which is related to one’s work and the team,” shares Menon.

Managerial skills

The leadership role that follows is that of leading the team leaders or the supervisors. This is more of a managerial role, where the requirement is not to just manage people. One has to see the geographical nuances as well, depending on the role one is into. “In this role, one is also required to understand the needs of the top management and implement the same,” says Rajimwale.

Tactical skills

When a person is further elevated to the role of a regional head or a departmental head, one ends up managing the managers from different cities and states. The bandwidth of the teams that one now handles grows bigger. In this role, it is more about having tactical skills as a leader. Here, one is trying to execute the strategies coming from the top leadership. One has to make tactical plans to be able to do that. For instance, if one is into sales and marketing, then, as the regional head, one’s top priority will revolve around that function alone. Therefore, maintaining good relations with clients or the quality assurance of the product will be one’s top priority.

“When the number of team members grows, it is more difficult to micromanage. Here, indirect management has to be practised. One cannot talk to everyone or interact with each person on a one-to-one basis,” says Menon.

“At CXO or organisational level leadership, one is required to be visionary and futuristic” 

Manoj Rajimwale, group CHRO, Endurance Technologies

Strategic skills

When one goes one step further, from regional head to business head, the requirement of skills changes again. Here, more than tactical skills, one is required to demonstrate strategic skills. “In this role, one has to move beyond a particular function. One has to think about the organisation as a whole. The regional heads will try and push for their clients, but as a leader, one has to think about the organisation. See the bottom line cost and the top-line requirements and take decisions,” asserts Rajimwale.

Vision and emotional quotient

Next on the ladder are the organisational-level responsibilities. The CXOs are required to be visionary and futuristic. “In this role, more than domain knowledge, one has to be a visionary and make plans for the next five to 10 years, and visualise the level one wants the firm to attain,” says Rajimwale.

“A good level of emotional quotient or EQ is another requirement. Many small decisions will be taken without one’s consent. One has to accept that. Things will not go exactly the way one wants them to go because one has to give liberty to people to work the way they want,” adds Menon.

Apart from this, building leaders and managers below one becomes another task. Creating a succession pipeline becomes more important than anything else. “When one starts climbing the corporate ladder, one has to nurture leaders under one, because going into the nitty gritty of each and everything is impossible when one has 25 things on the table to attend to,” shares Menon.

Another important thing is to prioritise things and accept the fact that some projects will get delayed due to many reasons, such as lack of attention.

As one ascends, the need to have domain expertise decreases, but Rajimwale still believes that in India, there are times when one has to get into the nitty gritty of things to resolve issues. Therefore, possessing domain expertise serves as the cherry on the top.

From managing oneself to managing teams of teams and becoming a leader of leaders, the skills required keep changing. Moreover, one needs to broaden one’s vision of looking at things.

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