Monday, May 28, 2012

Leadership: surviving the Death Zone

It is climbing season in the Himalayas and already we have seen tragedy and triumph -  most of it taking place in the Death Zone.

On Everest the Death Zone is the zone above 8,000 meters where there is not enough oxygen to sustain life (an extended stay in the zone without supplementary oxygen will result in deterioration of bodily functions, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death).  

What has this got to do with business leadership?  We use the expression Death Zone in the context of business leadership to describe the transition that managers must make when they are promoted into a leadership position.

Giving new leaders the intellectual and emotional tools, and coaching to survive this transition is an investment that has high ROI for both your people and your business.

Unfortunately it is more common than not, especially in marketing and advertising firms, to promote a 'craft' expert (manager) into a leadership role without giving them what they need to thrive as a leader.  When you promote someone it is essential that, right from the start, you give them the fundamental tools of leadership.  By this we mean the intellectual framework on how to direct a team, the practical framework to understand and manage a task, and the emotional framework to direct and nurture the talent and, ultimately, the coaching to sustain them through this transition from manager to leader. 

All to often we see people with great potential fail to transition the Death Zone and default back to their comfort zone of managing.  This inevitably means one, or all, of three things: 1) they end up suppressing the talent they are there to lead because they do their job (craft) for them; 2) the task is inefficiently executed (i.e. costly to the firm) due to poor decision-making burning hours and time (the two vital commodities in any firm); and 3) the team becomes dysfunctional due to a lack of clarity of purpose and roles and responsibilities.  Or, worse still, you will see an individual's passion and talent crushed due to the negative experience.

On Everest once you are in the Death Zone every decision you make, no matter how simple, has the potential to change your life forever.  To successfully transition the Death Zone requires skill, motivation, bravery, teamwork, leadership and personal drive in just the right mix. 

For those of us in business with the responsibility for selecting and nurturing leaders there are valuable lessons for us above 8,000 meters.

No comments:

Post a Comment