In the first of two articles, Angela Baron of the Institute of Personnel and Development explains how to stay at the top.
So you’ve settled into the plush office with the drinks cabinet, you’ve test-driven the new executive-class car and you’ve had your first taste of power – the security staff remembered your name. Now you’ve made it to the top, how do you stay there?

In these days of downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, it is not easy. Keeping your head down, avoiding risky decisions and sticking to the rules might have worked in the past. Now, such behaviour is more likely to be seen as unimaginative, traditionalist and lacking entrepreneurial spirit – or just plain out-of-date.

I’m good at my job – that’s why I got promoted. Why should I have problems now?

The rules have changed. Managers can no longer get by just by being good at something else. It is not enough to be a good salesperson or designer. Managers must also develop new skills: leadership, teambuilding, motivating, counselling, coaching and enabling.

Managers must provide the leadership that fosters innovation and flexibility – the cornerstones of competitiveness – and support their staff to ensure that day-to-day activities are completed effectively. In addition to becoming more flexible, creative and entrepreneurial themselves, managers have to foster these qualities in others.

And in these times of decentralised and re-engineered organisations, managers are likely to be responsible for a wider range of activities and people than ever before. They have to be able to trust the people they manage to do what is required of them in a professional and efficient way. If they don’t, the whole structure is likely to break down.

How can I do this?

By taking a flexible approach to management. Many a good manager has failed not because they lacked skills, but because they failed to realise that different people in different circumstances need a range of management techniques if they are going to deliver the goods consistently. Sometimes the manager needs to focus on the task, and sometimes on the relationships between individuals or teams to get the job done.

Managers can no longer get by just by being good at something else. They must develop new skills

So, I can’t just tell people how to do what’s required?

Hardly. As work becomes more and more complex, bosses cannot hope to have the knowledge that enables them to specify how each task should be performed. The most efficient form of organisation becomes the team mutually supporting each other to perform a range of tasks.

This is why traditional “command and control” management, where the manager’s job was to dictate what was needed and then make sure it was done on time and correctly, has given way to facilitating styles of management. This is where managers enable tasks to be performed through teamwork. Decisions are taken jointly by team members, or at least after discussion.

To secure an extended tenure as the boss, it is perhaps most important to remember that managers will be judged on the performance of their team. To perform well, teams need to be motivated and led. They also need to be developed and nurtured to ensure that they possess the skills to adapt to changing economic and organisational circumstances.

Any more advice?

Managers must also remember that the world does not stop when they make it to the top.