Most of the leadership advice aimed at senior functional managers is how to build, align, energize, and guide a world-class team. This is a challenging task in its own right, but we all know it isn’t the whole story. Leaders, even those in the C-suite, must also extend their influence upward and horizontally.
Organization theory suggests that managing upward and sideways is good for both the company and the individual leader’s career: CEOs need the insights and pushback of trusted executives to help sharpen strategy. And complex modern organizations benefit when people engage with their peers across functional and business-unit boundaries to bring a range of perspectives and drive change and innovation.
Our research confirms this theory, and then some. In a wide-ranging study of the leadership actions of chief marketing officers (CMOs)—a good proxy, we believe, for the skills and behaviors of functional leaders in general—we’ve shown how “managing” the CEO and mobilizing colleagues increases business impact and career success. (For leadership research on another C-suite proxy, the CFO, see “How functional leaders become CEOs.”) To test our hypothesis, we asked more than 1,200 senior marketing executives from 71 countries about their perceived business impact (contribution to revenue and profit growth), their career success, and their characteristics against 96 variables. Using statistical techniques (explained below1), we were able to relate to these outcomes the 96 variables (which included leadership behaviors, functional skills, personality traits, sociodemographic variables, and external factors, such as peoples’ fit with the company). We supplemented this research by analyzing existing 360-degree data on 7,429 marketing and nonmarketing leaders—a total of 67,278 individual evaluations by these leaders’ bosses, peers, subordinates, and themselves.
Our findings lend support to the notion that senior executives should pay more attention to mobilizing their bosses (managing upward) and functional colleagues (managing horizontally) (exhibit). Taken together, these upward and horizontal actions were about 50 percent more important than managing subordinates for business success (45 percent versus 30 percent)—and well over twice as important for career success (47 percent versus 19 percent).
Source: Barta, T., & Barwise, P. (2017). Why effective leaders must manage up, down and sideways. Retrieved 2 August 2017 from http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/why-effective-leaders-must-manage-up-down-and-sideways?cid=other-eml-ttn-mkq-mck-oth-1706&hlkid=b2719a9993374ddd9660faf87d1d2c2d&hctky=2449238&hdpid=4f9ff81a-9d86-463e-a0a9-c310ceab7ba7