Spiral-shaped career models as a form of leadership training

In one of my recent posts I appealed for a demystification of leadership – the advantage of the new concept of leadership is that managers are no longer decision-makers but become moderators and leadership itself becomes temporary. Thus managers’ loads are lightened by distributing responsibility among team members and management roles are assigned accordingly as is currently required by the situation at hand. But there is yet another benefit of temporary leadership: it is the best tool you can imagine for developing managers.


“Campfire careers” are the classical track taken by managers in companies: Promotion after promotion, the road ahead leads steeply upwards – until the manager’s own limits have been reached, the manager inevitably fails and leaves the company. This career track damns both the manager and her teams to dissatisfaction and to irrevocable burnout in the long term.


Companies can learn a lot in this regard from clubs and societies. Delineation of task happens mostly without any conscious effort or is democratically determined – everyone takes on the task area in which they can perform best and which they enjoy the most. In clubs, members are usually grateful to find somebody to take on a task. Normally, however, there is a good deal of moaning and complaining. And then, something exciting happens:


Several members of the team are unhappy with the way the current managing board is running the club. Criticism is voiced; more dissatisfaction. When it’s time for a new term of office, the old board resigns and a new leadership takes over. Now it’s the turn of those who were so disgruntled to take on precisely those management tasks they thought their predecessors did so badly. And it’s only when these new board members take the helm that they notice how difficult management can be. If they too are relieved of their duties at the next election, they will have a totally new perspective and a far more sensitive awareness of what management entails. They can learn directly from their successors. The result: They judge the mistakes and successes of their new managing board quite differently than they did before they put themselves in the hot seat.


I am convinced that leadership in companies should follow this pattern. We should be “agilizing” careers and make them spiral staircases: observe from the team’s point of view, then take on the leadership role, then back to the team again, to observe anew and then take on the leadership role once more. Thus a much greater understanding develops between team and leadership – the learning effect is enormous: If you have management experience yourself, you will observe from team’s point of view colleagues who lead in a different way, you will compare and thus learn not just from your own term of office, but also from your colleague’s. I cannot imagine a more comprehensive approach to leadership development.


Of course, this structure of spiral-staircase careers brings with it many challenges. One of the greatest of these has to be compensation. Because: Salary increases the more management responsibility is accepted, and no one wants to lose out on salary because of the leadership model, as soon as a colleague steps in to take on the manager role. But there is a solution to this problem, which I will explain in one of my next posts.


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