What’s Needed to Move Up the Leadership Ladder

Premierehire Executive search and leadership strategies

“The Leadership Pipeline” by Stephen Drotter provides valuable insights into the key behaviors and skill sets that leaders need to acquire and let go of as they progress up the leadership ladder. Another great resource on this topic is research conducted by Korn Ferry, which is referenced below. The blog that follows this one outlines key insights on how to add or drop key skills and behaviors for each level.

From individual contributor to manager:

As leaders transition from individual contributors to their first managerial role, they need to let go of their identity as performers and embrace their new responsibilities. Acquiring skills such as delegation, prioritization, and team management becomes essential. They must focus on developing their team members’ capabilities and rely on their team’s performance rather than their individual achievements. They must now become coaches and learn to ask good questions.

From manager to manager of managers:

At this level, leaders must let go of their direct operational involvement and shift their focus to managing managers. They need to acquire skills in setting strategic direction, building and developing high-performing teams, and overseeing the performance of multiple departments or business units. Essentially, they become a coach of coaches. It is crucial that they let go of direct control and become comfortable with decentralized leadership and decision-making.

From manager of managers to functional manager:

When transitioning to a functional manager role, leaders must let go of their narrow functional expertise and develop a broader perspective. Acquiring skills in cross-functional collaboration, strategic thinking, and developing an enterprise-wide view becomes imperative. They need to align functional goals with the organization’s overall objectives and act as a liaison between different departments.

Leaders moving into a business manager role need to let go of their functional biases and develop a deep understanding of the business as a whole. Acquiring skills in business strategy, financial acumen, market dynamics, and customer relationship management becomes crucial. They must take a holistic approach and balance the needs of different functions to drive overall business success.

From business manager to group manager:

As leaders transition to a group manager role, they need to let go of their direct control over individual business units and embrace a broader responsibility. Acquiring skills in portfolio management, resource allocation, and organizational design becomes essential. They must effectively lead a group of business units or divisions, fostering collaboration and synergy among them.

From group manager to enterprise manager:

At the highest level of leadership, leaders need to let go of their operational involvement and focus on leading the entire organization. Acquiring skills in strategic thinking, driving cultural change, and setting the long-term vision and direction becomes paramount. They must champion the organization’s values, build strong executive teams, and navigate external challenges and opportunities.

Throughout the leadership pipeline, leaders must also let go of certain mindsets and behaviors that can hinder their effectiveness. These include micromanagement, excessive focus on technical expertise, reluctance to delegate, resistance to change, and limiting feedback. Instead, leaders should adopt a growth mindset, embrace continuous learning, empower their teams, and cultivate adaptability and resilience.

In conclusion, “The Leadership Pipeline” provides a comprehensive framework for leaders to navigate their progression up the leadership ladder successfully. By acquiring new skills and mindsets while letting go of old ones, leaders can adapt to the challenges and responsibilities at each level. This executive summary has outlined the key principles for leaders to apply as they ascend the leadership ladder, enabling them to drive organizational success and create a positive impact.


The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, Stephen Drotter, 2011

Transitions in Leadership Experience: How experiences shape
leadership at every level. Korn Ferry, 2019

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The Author

Leanne Terrace helps leaders and teams reach higher levels of performance and fulfillment in their work.

Leanne serves as an executive & team coach, facilitator, leadership trainer, and talent advisor. Her coaching, tools, and proven processes transform organizational health, attract great people, and build great places to work because ‘people are the point’.

She and her team also help organizations find and retain top leaders with their 4 Phase Executive Search and New Leader Integration Solutions.

Leanne has over 25 years of executive leadership experience and is a certified executive and team coach (EMCC). She is a certified coach for Birkman Leadership Assessments and 360s and has extensive training with the Adizes Institute for Organizational Transformation, Robbins Madanes Intervention coaching, the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), and the Global Team Coaching Institute (GTCI). She also has a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Business from UBC.

Leanne serves clients throughout the US and Canada, ranging in size and industry.

If you are looking to elevate your team, your leadership, or your career, please send an email or book a complimentary consult.