How to Make the Move to Enterprise-Wide Leader

Posted 06.15.2021

It’s interesting how things run in patterns. For instance, lately I’ve had a number of conversations with clients and colleagues about talented team members who have gotten themselves stuck in the role of superstar individual contributors when they have the desire and capacity to be enterprise-wide leaders. These folks are actually team leaders with broad scopes of responsibility so they have the platform to operate as a leader across their enterprise but they haven’t let go of the superstar, go-to person modus operandi that got them noticed in the first place. As a result, they’re stuck and frustrated. They want more impact and influence but their behaviors are holding them back.

If you’re reading this blog, you may be aware that I wrote a book on this topic called The Next Level. It’s all about the behaviors and mindsets you need to pick up and let go of to be successful in bigger and bigger roles. As I’ve been having these conversations about stuck superstars lately, I’ve cited a few of the pick up and let go distinctions in the book. I’ve also found myself sharing a few new distinctions that are more in the frame of from/to – making the move from this to that.

Since there are lots of high potential and frustrated individual contributors out there who want more along with lots of managers who want to help them do and be more, here are some of the from/to distinctions I’ve been sharing the past few weeks. I hope they’re helpful and make a difference in increasing your influence and impact:

From Pleasing the Few to Engaging the Many: Lots of superstar individual contributors spend their time and energy focusing on pleasing the powerful people in their enterprise. That’s understandable at some level because it gets them noticed and often creates bigger opportunities for them. It’s actually pretty simple and not that complex to operate that way. The problem is, in the long-run, that approach doesn’t scale. What’s harder and more value-added over the long-run is to consider the full range of stakeholders and engage them in your problem-solving process. That’s what true enterprise-wide leaders do.

From Driving Your Functional Agenda to Considering the Greater Good: This from/to distinction expands on the previous one. Superstars who get stuck get stuck because they act as if their immediate functional agenda is the only one that matters. Enterprise-wide leaders start with the bigger picture and reverse engineer their way back from those goals to determine how to shape and execute on their functional agenda in a way that adds the broadest value. As long-time Fortune 500 CHRO Lucien Alziari told me in an interview for The Next Level, true high potentials take a business first, function second mindset.

From Short-Term Focus to Long-Term Vision: Closely related to Lucien’s point on business first, function second is this from/to distinction on time frames. Enterprise-wide leaders think long-term and consider how their initiatives fit into the longer-term game plan. Again, it’s actually really simple to just focus on accomplishing what’s right in front of you with a full-speed ahead, take no prisoners approach. What’s more nuanced and complex is to step back, consider the long-term bigger picture and adjust your plan and approach accordingly. When they’re considering who should be given greater scope and impact, most senior leaders are going to award points for an optimal combination of strategic thinking and tactical execution. If you want to get the nod, work on striking a balance between the two.

From Acting Responsible to Being Accountable: This last distinction is straight out of the chapter in The Next Level on picking up accountability for many results and letting go of acting as if you’re responsible for the few results you can drive on your own. That leads to another important distinction. If you’re accountable, you own it; if you’re responsible, you do it. Enterprise-wide leaders are almost always more focused on accountability than responsibility. They own the results, but they’re not personally doing the results. They lead and leverage a team of people – formally or informally, solid-line or dotted-line, direct or indirect, or some combination of all those – to create a wide range of results across the enterprise. They’ve made the shift from being the go-to person to the leader who builds and nurtures teams of go-to people. And that’s how you scale your leadership and make the move from superstar individual contributor to enterprise-wide leader.

What’s your take? What other shifts do superstar individual contributors need to make to be seen as enterprise-wide leaders? If you’re reading this through LinkedIn, please share your ideas in a comment or, if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, share your thoughts by sending me an email.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.