Management Up the Org Chart: Who is Driving the Org?

Moving up the org chart from individual contributor to team leader, to more senior management jobs, and eventually into senior leadership (executive leadership) isn’t trivial. Most people don’t get a lot of education or training on how to be great leaders and managers. As you move up the org chart, or as the organization grows, and your role increases in complexity and responsibility, I find it’s valuable to think about what the “organization needs from you” in your role.

Some leaders struggle with acting in a lower level of focus/maturity than what their role needs, sometimes because of the Peter Principle (they’re not capable of stepping up), and sometimes because they haven’t had the training/mentorship or the people around them aren’t capable of absorbing their old work so they can move into their new role fully. Fast growing organizations especially struggle with this, as they try to quickly recruit, hire, onboard, and evolve employees.

Here’s a very simplistic structure to think about primary focus areas — leadership and management are obviously much more complex than this, and sometimes the order shifts around, based on the org chart, organization time, and other factors:

  • Individual Contributors are the power (turn the cranks on the machine)
  • Team Leaders sustain and maintain operations, ensuring the cranks are being turned and resolving issues/obstacles, and hitting key deadlines and other goals (e.g. SLAs)
  • Managers plan, executive, and monitor work at scale (big programs/initiatives) to deliver results
  • Senior Leaders build and optimize the business systems (not IT systems, but the “business architecture” of how parts of the business run — things like business processes, checklists, cultural expectations, forms, templates)
  • Executives set strategy, vision, and culture

There is significant overlap up and down these broad brush stroke levels — executives need to deliver results at an event bigger scale, and team leaders influence culture dramatically for their team. But I see these areas of focus helpful to think about, as leaders figure out what they should be focusing on, and how they should direct or influence the people around them (e.g. designing org charts, drafting job descriptions, setting expectations, defining performance targets, collaborating with peers).

When organizations don’t have the build and optimize area mature, there’s huge amounts of chaos, inconsistency, rework, inefficiencies. There needs to be flexibility for individual divisions/teams/people to innovation and implement things themselves, but the balance between consistency and flexibility is critical to monitor and adjust as organizations grow and mature, to enable the organization to be fast and efficient.

Zooming in more on the executive/senior leadership role, below is an amazing visual summary of Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive (book and HBR article) concepts by Tanya Vora:

See also this blog post about how delegation/authority evolves up the org chart: Fire and Forget.

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