Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Leadership Pipeline

I often read more than one book at once. This is great for stimulating thought but may cause an intermingling of thought on my book reviews.

The Leadership Pipeline - How to Build the Leadership Powered Company by Ram Charan, Steve Drotter and Jim Noel was awesome. It is a must read for any aspiring leader at any level. And of course every HR dept needs multiple copies.

I like Ram Charan's books. He is a clear thinker.

One thing I like about the book is it encourages organizations to look within for leaders. I do think it is good to have some outside talent but the culture of the organization is often best fostered by existing people. I think promoting from within also keeps knowledge within the company.

Leadership Pipeline talks of leadership mostly within larger organizations. This is not where my experience is.

The book talks about 6 passages of leadership.

1 - From managing self to others. Moving from technical proficiency to planning, delegation, coaching etc. There is a good table that lays out the changes/skills required in each phase.

2 - From managing others to managing managers

3 - From Managers to functional managers. At this stage, the leader needs to penetrate 2 levels of the company. I often call this the rule of 49. A good leader can manage 7 people who can manage 7 people. Beyond 49 people, style needs to change.

4 - From Functional managers to business leader. Interestingly, I started my career here. I started my business so was always responsible for the whole business. I grew through managing others in a few months. In a couple of years, I was managing managers. After that, it took me 8 or 9 years before I had to manage functional managers. I do not recall how many people I had in each year of our growth but I do recall sales numbers. It took us 9 years to reach $40,000,000 in sales.

I must have had trouble growing through that level since our sales stalled for 3 years at that level before growing to $68,000,000. We went public the following year and sales beat $100,000,000 the next year.

5 - The next step is going from managing a business unit to managing a group of businesses. I am not sure I really hit that stage at EMJ. Or perhaps I just touched it. At this stage, leaders need to learn to influence more than control.

I sold EMJ to SYNNEX when our sales were $350,000,000.

6 - Going from group leadership to enterprise leadership. I did some of this at EMJ but it was not until I went to SYNNEX and sale rose to over $1 Billion that this became more of the norm. Even then, SYNNEX was a small company so I still had much to learn and growth to do to truly become an enterprise leader.

One thing that limits leaders is their sticking to proven strategies. EG - an individual performer might dig in more to do the work instead of moving to a coach, trainer, mentor etc. Part of growing as a leader is being willing to let go.

I recall having to deliberately let go (and it was tough). For example, at one point, I decided I just should not enter an order or give customers delivery information (it was taking too much of my time and I was finding people I met were using me as their sales rep). It was tough.

Much of growing as a leader for me had to do with deliberate study. I would always ask myself what I would need to do or learn to get to the next level (not meaning these leadership levels meaning the next sales/organization size)

Leadership pipeline has a good section on identifying potential leaders and succession plans (SYNNEX did a fair job of that - and I only say fair since I think doing it well is almost impossible)

Great book - I highly recommend it.


At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Chris Knight said...


I always appreciate your blog posts!

I'm currently preparing myself for transition from managing managers to hiring/training and managing functional/general managers.

Last year I worked hard on systems and processes. This year, I'm going to work on "letting go" some more so that my good hires can shine. :-)

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Julie McManus said...

Jim, sounds like a great book. I will be sure to add it to my list. I agree with your first comments about reading more than one book at a time. It does have a tendency to cause "intermingling" of thoughts. I try and make sure they are all business books though because then you can get really mixed up!

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Julie McManus said...

Jim, sounds like a great book. I will add it to my list. I agree with you on the "intermingling" of thoughts. I often read multiple books at the same time. I try and make sure they are all business books though otherwise all sorts of odd management models can develop.
Thanks again for sharing.


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