Why We Need To Invest In Our B-Suite Leaders

Aug 24, 2021 1 Min Read
Leadership middle management B-Suite
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Can B-Suite Leaders Lead From The middle?

Succession planning is going backwards. Since 1999 there has been continued worldwide slippage in companies that feel they have a decent bench to replace those moving on or retiring. DDI’s recent Global Leadership Forecast reports that 77% of organisations report a leadership gap - a situation that is worsening as the final baby-boomers leave, and Millennials step into the gaps left behind - gaps that the smaller Gen X population simply don’t have the numbers to fill.

This lack of promotability in our leadership ranks is a major problem for employers and puts business performance at risk.

For many years, the middle manager has been the butt of corporate jokes: a paper pusher, an administrator - too senior for hands-on management but too junior for any real authority. Ask Elon Musk and Steve Jobs: both stated we don’t even need them.

Fast forward to today, and middle managers are not so funny any more. In fact, they are critical - but they are not ready. In fact, a 2019 survey by Gartner revealed that only half of all business leaders feel confident leading their teams today - and we all know that a lack of confident leaders breeds a lack of confidence in leaders.

Leading from the middle is tough - it’s like being middle class, middle-aged or a middle child - but that is exactly where businesses need more high-impact leadership today.

Additional reading: Why Dynamic Stability Is Critical For Mid-Level Managers

Why are they now critical?

Massive and recent shifts in business pace, more generations in the workplace driving more personalised leadership demands, and greater complexity means that decision making, negotiation and culture has to devolve to the centre -

  • The sheer velocity of business today has never been this fast; and the Forecast tells us that a leader’s ability to react to high-speed change makes them 8.8 times more valuable to the business than a leader who can't. 
  • B-Suite leaders are essential for translating policy in ways that make sense to the individual, especially important when it comes to the engagement and wellbeing of anxious, disconnected teams who, through Covid, political unrest and global warming, are dealing with a level of uncertainty we haven’t seen for 100 years.
  • You know that phrase “doing more with less”? To achieve leaner yet more productive businesses means constantly negotiating resources and boundaries. B-Suite leaders have both the hands-on relationships to make that work, and the discretionary authority to make those decisions. 

Why are they not ready?

Too junior to be ‘in the tent’ and too senior for new manager training, B-Suite development has been either generic or neglected for decades. As a result, they are now struggling to shift from certainty, process and control to ambiguity, negotiation and influence. Once trained for operational efficiency, they are now required to also achieve strategic impact – such as pivoting the plan in times of change, disruption-proofing their operations, and navigating continued volatility - and the result is a chasm of promotability into senior executive roles.

Address the leadership gap with targeted investment

There's a frustrating mismatch between B-Suite needs and employer investment when it comes to development.  B-Suite leaders want external mentoring, coaching and peer groups and what they get is in-house leadership training, leader-as-coach or internal mentors.

Significant training dollars are spent on a small selection of high performing or senior leaders, and proportionally little on the large number of middle managers in the B-Suite - and I get it, they’re a huge group so it’s expensive. Targeted investment is key to enabling your B-Suite Leaders to:

  • Control the Pace: A leader who can set and reset direction at pace and remain productive despite the chaos is worth almost twice one who can't.
  • Use the Space:  Those who can lead through complexity and ambiguity and who can make strategically astute choices despite uncertainty, have more than three times the impact of those who cannot.
  • Make the Case: Leading through influence is a top priority for B-Suite leadership: whether influencing up, down, at peer level or a brand level those that can influence get cut-through and engagement and those that don’t, don’t.

This may interest you: 10 Ways To Level Up Your Leadership

We need our B-Suite leaders to have C-Suite impact and we need to invest in them to step into that widening gap. To do otherwise means facing the risk that gap presents both in terms of long-term succession planning and in terms of short-term performance outcomes.

Word. Middle management is not just viewed as relevant but is seen as critical when it comes to spearheading massive changes in any organisation. Watch this video and listen to interesting insights.

If you enjoyed the video above and would like to learn more about how you can develop yourself and lead your organisation, then check out this amazing app called Necole. Necole is a state of the art learning platform that curates personalised learning just for you. For more information on this powerful artificial intelligence app, watch this video below.

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Sources : DDI, 2018, Thornton 2018, Deloitte 2019


Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’, is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at a strategic, team and individual level. For more information about Rebecca can help your team visit www.boldhr.com.au


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