Ladder of Uncertainty

A friend called seeking some career advice. He was being considered for a senior role in a large, diversified group, and wanted to know my views on whether switching to it (role and brand) was a good idea. Knowing what he does now (functional head), I used the opportunity to make him aware of what lies ahead…

In my experience, as we evolve from junior to mid-level roles, and ultimately to senior/leadership levels, every individual or manager needs to climb the ‘ladder of uncertainty’.

It is a bit reductive to say that higher levels of authority can exert a significant degree of control on the outcome of their efforts. Yes, to an extent the freedom of decision making is more for senior folks in any organization. But, so much of what they do is out of their circle of influence – regulatory environment, competitor landscape, organizational strategy, resource availability (quality and quantity), etc. etc.

There is also a dimension of moving from functional work to more strategic work. Mid-level managers are often given charge of teams engaged in the kind of work that they have done themselves. In a crunch, a good (functional) manager can roll up his/her sleeves and pitch-in, or compensate for their team member’s skills. That is not feasible, when you reach higher levels of complexity.

For senior leaders, the task at hand is to make difficult decisions (often involving tradeoffs) and provide directional clarity, in response to ever-changing exigencies and internal constraints. It also involves working with other, senior leaders (heading functions that you may have limited knowledge of), so that you can garner their support in working towards a common goal. That is a whole different skill in management.

On the path of career progression, every individual needs to contend with increasing degrees of uncertainty, while simultaneously learning to grapple with additional responsibilities. It is important that one understands what lies ahead, so that one is better prepared to face the challenges that ensue.

The future may be uncertain, and filled with challenges. But, that is also what makes it exciting, and well worth the effort.