In an episode of the BBC’s Sherlock series, his female nemesis declares “Intelligence is the new sexy.” If you buy into that concept, like I do, it’s not much of a stretch to think of general management (GM) competencies as the new sexy.
Why? Outstanding GMs lead confidently, effectively, and their multi-faceted abilities provide a well-rounded perspective of organizational needs. That’s sexy! Those who are new to the GM role, however, may not have the necessary sleuthing and deductive skills to transition into a more encompassing leadership role.
In creating a new GM program for the Wisconsin School of Business, I’ve encountered many a curious comment ranging from, “How’s that any different from regular management?” to “I have an engineering manager who recently landed a VP role and is thrashing about because we didn’t arm him with the language of business.”
What we’re finding is that as companies do more with less, they’re still accelerating at the speed of business, and often calling upon high-performing managers to take on larger organizational roles. These new roles may involve managing entire divisions, business units, or the organization itself. Although these managers may have been successful and influential subject-matter experts in their specialized area, it can be a mystery to them how to lead from a cross-functional perspective. When you add P&L responsibilities to the mix, it’s easy to understand how things can unravel quickly. Therein lies the primary difference between managers who are responsible for a single functional area and GMs who are responsible for the majority, if not all, of the functional areas and the strategic direction of the organization.
The GM competencies involve proficiency in key business topic areas like finance, accounting, marketing, operations, and human resources. In order to transition from being the subject-matter expert in one specific area to the leader that the company and its employees need, speaking the language of business in those key topic areas allows a GM to be an effective and confident communicator.
And, the GM competencies are crucial when it comes to leadership, organizational change, strategic analysis, and business transformation. Errors made out of shortsightedness and a lack of understanding can be significant. To save time and money, companies should consider pairing the broader company perspective with the ability to be influential across departments. This approach allows for smart decision-making in volatile and uncertain competitive environments.
Many companies we’ve worked with describe how GM competencies are central to their organizational leadership framework for employees. These competencies are also key to managing succession planning, and some strive to instill them in employees who are not only incumbents to a position, but also near the incumbent position or one level below. Other companies simply rely upon newly promoted senior managers and directors to figure things out on their own, all at the cost of potential profits and employee morale.
We can’t all be geniuses like Sherlock Holmes, thrown into complex mysteries and expertly solving cases through deductive reasoning. When it comes to managers who will become key business decision-makers, companies should recognize this, too. Let’s hope they arm their leaders with GM competencies.
Vicky Myint received her Executive MBA degree from the Wisconsin School of Business in 2005. She is currently working as a program director for the Wisconsin School of Business’ Center for Professional and Executive Development.