Ascenders: Don’t Forget To Lead Your Team

We work with a lot of leaders who tend to be in the upper third of the management layer in their orgs. Not “C-level”, but real close. Let’s call them ascenders, the ones who have their eyes on moving up a management level relatively soon. 

The ascenders make choices every day about how to spend their time, where to focus their energies, where to invest a little attention.  A pattern I’ve seen: The larger the org, the more time these ascenders spend influencing and “leading up”, focusing on the teams above them, or worse, their peers at the “ascenders” level. While there is always a need to for communications, influencing, and gaining “alignment”, when it gets out of balance it becomes something else. Some might call it jockeying for position, others might call it politics. Either way, a manager that is preoccupied with “up”, is not prioritizing team leadership. 

The more they look at their daily and weekly activities through the lens of their own relative position in the matrix, the less time an ascender is spending making sure their team is ready and responsive. They’re making a tradeoff without really thinking too much about it, and the team suffers. 

I don’t think the ascenders are trying to mis-manage their attention and focus. We’ve all seen the way the corner offices can be a black hole of decisiveness, how the demands for more meetings and time and reports can suck the available calendar time that would have gone to their team. The worse part, these ascenders might not even know they’re doing it. They might think they are “influencing” up in order to clear the way or create “cover” for their team. They might think they are being “servant” leaders. 

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