30 Challenges That Can Develop Leaders

There is no shortage of developmental challenges a leader could face throughout their careers. Here is a summary of three decades worth of research that describes these challenges. Note the overlap and similarities between the lists.

1988: The Lessons of Experience
The Center for Creative Leadership’s Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison identified sixteen developmental experiences that have the most impact on a leader’s development. Their findings were published in 1988 in the groundbreaking book “The Lessons of Experience”.

1. Early work experiences: early non-managerial jobs

2. First supervision: first time managing people

3. Starting from scratch: building something from nothing

4. Fix it/turnaround: fixing/stabilizing a failing operation

5. Project/task force: discrete projects and temporary assignments done alone or as a part of a team

6. Scope: increase in numbers of people, dollars, and functions to manage

7. Line to staff switch: moving from line operations to corporate staff roles

Other People:
8. Role models: other people with exceptional (good or bad) qualities

9. Values played out: “snapshots” of chain-of-command behavior that demonstrate individual or corporate values

10. Business failure or mistakes: ideas that failed or deals that fell apart

11. Demotions/missed promotions/lousy jobs: not getting a coveted job or getting exiled

12. Employee performance problem: confronting an employee with a serious performance problem

13. Breaking a rut: taking on a new career in response to discontent with the current job

14. Personal traumas: crises and traumas such as divorce, illness, and death

Other events:
15. Coursework: formal courses

16. Purely personal: experiences outside of work

2001: The Leadership Pipeline
The Leadership Pipeline was based on work originally done at General Electric in the 1970s by Walt Mahler, an HR consultant and trainer. Mahler identified six different passages and challenges in a leader’s career (“The Crossroads Model”). Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel then applied their expertise in succession planning to write the Leadership Pipeline in 2001.

1. Managing self to managing others
The first passage is from managing elf to managing others. This passage occurs when a person gets promoted to first line manager. The skills required in this position often include planning work, assigning jobs, motivating, coaching, and measuring the jobs of others. Though these skills are all easily learned, first-line managers often encounter difficulties in the change of values required to effectively manage others.

2. Managing others to managing managers
The second passage is from managing others to managing managers. This passage in the leadership pipeline is often ignored due to the assumption that managing others and managing other managers are quite similar. It is important to note that the two are entirely different tasks. Managing managers is a more crucial task and requires the key ability to identify who has the potential to be good leaders. Failure to do so can lead to holding first-line managers for technical work instead of managerial work. This then creates a clog in the leadership pipeline and eventually affects the performance of the organization.

3. Managing managers to functional managers
The third passage is from managing managers to functional managers. This passage is a much tougher transition because it requires an increase in managerial maturity. This means he/she has to learn to let go of previous management work, and instead focus on the functions of the business. The manager also needs to take on a more holistic approach and strategic mindset. This is required for creating functional strategies for the company and managing the whole function of the business.

4. Functional managers to business managers
The fourth passage is from functional managers to business managers. This passage can be one of the most fulfilling and the most satisfying among all the passages because it gives the manager more control and say about the company operations and strategies.
This position also requires a major shift in skills, time applications, and work values. Neglecting these qualities ultimately results to problems such as not valuing and using staff functions, failure to direct and energize finance, and other challenges that may negatively affect the business.

5. Business managers to group managers
The fifth passage is from business managers to group managers. This particular passage places value in the success of other people’s businesses. This focuses on group of businesses, not just one. Therefore, a Group manager is required to become more proficient at evaluating strategies, developing and coaching business managers, creating a portfolio strategy, and correctly assessing the right core capabilities to succeed. The point is to see the company issues in the broadest terms possible. Failure to acquire these skills ultimately results to failure in supporting the business managers.

6. Group managers to enterprise managers
The sixth and final passage is from group managers to enterprise managers. These are the CEOs and presidents of the companies. This passage focuses more on values and skills because this position requires a visionary leader. Enterprise managers would have to let go of the individual products and customers, and see the whole picture. Usually, they are required to set three or four priority goals, and focus on implementing the strategies for these goals. The biggest problem in this passage is that enterprise managers often fail to change their values and mindset. Hence, it is very difficult to develop a CEO for this transition.

2009: The 8 Toughest Transitions for Leaders
Now we have Michael Watkins, author of the First 90 Days. His new book is Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions. In it, Watkins has identified eight types of career moves that most executives face during their careers.

1. The promotion challenge: Moving to a higher level in the hierarchy and understanding what success looks like at the new level, including issues of focus, delegation, developing leadership competencies and demonstrating presence.

2. The leading-former-peers challenge: An important variant of promotion in which the leader is elevated to manage a team including his or her former peers, with the associated challenges of establishing authority and altering existing relationships.
3. The corporate diplomacy challenge: Moving from a position of authority to one in which effectiveness in influencing others and building alliances is critical.
4. The on-boarding challenge: Joining a new organization and grappling with the need to adapt to a new culture, develop the right political “wiring” and align expectations up, down and sideways.
5. The international move challenge: Leading in an unfamiliar culture while at the same time moving one’s family and creating a new support system.
6. The turnaround challenge: Taking over an organization that is in deep trouble and figuring out how to save it from destruction.
7. The realignment challenge: Confronting an organization that is in denial about the need for change and creating a sense of urgency before emerging problems erupt in a crisis.
8. The business portfolio challenge: Leading an organization in which different parts are at different states — startup, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment and sustaining success — and figuring out where to focus and how to build momentum.