In today’s fast moving and highly collaborative business environment role clarity, understanding who is doing what in the workflow process, is critical to both performance and productivity. If you are a Team or Organizational leader, your role is to ensure that you and your people are also working at the right altitude!
When referring to an aircraft, we can easily relate to the concept of flying at the correct altitude. A small, prop-engine plane typically flies at a low altitude. In the corporate world, this is equivalent to being an individual contributor in charge of delivering a specific piece of work.
As the team leader, the required altitude changes significantly. The role here is equivalent to piloting a Boeing 747, flying at a much higher altitude, with an increased scope of work and greater responsibility.
At the organizational leadership level, altitude increases exponentially and now the comparison is like being an astronaut on a space station with even greater challenges, more ambiguity and farther reaching considerations and consequences.
Altitude is an important concept in business and leadership for two (2) critical reasons:
- If you fly at too low an altitude, you create problems by micro-managing your direct reports.
- If you fly at too high an altitude, you may become disconnected from the operations of the business.
The Altitude Model
The Altitude Model has three (3) levels: DO-MANAGE-LEAD. Appropriate Application of the model requires both an evolution in mindset as well as the acquisition of progressive skill sets required to ‘fly’ at the appropriate altitude.
The DOING Level of the Altitude Model
Here, a leader is hands-on with tasks, in their professional comfort zone and likely utilizing their technical competencies to develop and own the tangible work product. They are working in the business.
- When team leaders with direct reports spend too much time at the “Doing” Altitude Level, two (2) downsides can occur:
They are not letting go of the work and appropriately developing the skill-sets of their team members. This will slow down direct reports from making meaningful contributions to the business as well as potentially slow down progress in their career growth.
- The capacity of the team leader is being utilized by lower level work and they are not learning how to stretch themselves to reach beyond their own personal performance bandwidth. This will limit them for future roles at higher levels within the organization.
Team leaders must be rigorous about building their talent bench and personally ensuring that team members are ready for future growth opportunities. This means that team leaders must be disciplined, not compressing or stalling the growth of their talent due to their own selfish or indulgent desires to inappropriately hold onto work they are good at or are afraid to let go of!
The MANAGE Level of the Altitude Model
At this level, the leader must work with their interpersonal skills to get work done through others. This is hard for many leaders because it not only requires letting go of doing tasks themselves, but most importantly, it requires a significant investment of time and energy in coaching and developing the skills of their direct reports.
Understanding how to coach and develop others are skill sets that you must have as a leader with direct reports. Failing to understand that this is your primary role risks your personal career progression as well as the career progression for the talent on your team!
The LEAD Level of the Altitude Model
Flying at the “Lead” level of Altitude requires a focus on (3) areas:
- Prioritizing initiatives
- Allocating resources (people, time and money)
- Creating aligned actions
This will likely also include making trade-offs, where necessary, to stage and sequence work while also creating cross-functional alignment across the enterprise. At this level, the leader is working on the business and not in the business.
When a leader flies at the appropriate ‘Manage’ and ‘Lead’ level, they create LIFT for their team and organization. They get more work done and they realize the full value and potential of their talent.
Conversely, when a leader does not fly at the correct altitude they create COMPRESSION on the team and across the organization as the leader is doing the work of others below them, talent is not developing and future growth opportunities for the organization are at risk for being stalled.
As a leader, you need to understand the altitude required for your position and to be cognizant of its impact on both the team and organization. Flying at the appropriate altitude is critical to your own career trajectory as well as that of your direct reports.
Not sure about the altitude you are flying at? Check out Erica Peitler’s new book Leadership Rigor! for more insights and suggestions.
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