The long journey to the top

The path to leadership requires a complex set of development skills and, as our survey suggests, each step has its pitfalls. The World Business leadership development survey, sponsored by DDI.

by James Curtis, World Business

Life at the top can be bloody and unforgiving. Promotion may bring with it plenty of rewards and, at the very top, the large financial packages for leaders of global companies are growing bigger. But the path to the summit is full of pitfalls, and managers who are ill-prepared or unsuited for the new roles they adopt along the way may fail.

Certainly, this is the view from the front line as revealed by a survey of 600 global managers from all tiers of management, conducted by World Business. Many managers find the transition into leadership one of the most emotionally fraught stages in their lives. The survey showed that one of the toughest challenges faced by global managers is 'navigating organisational politics'. A female marketing manager from Brazil told us: "Dealing with peers' and even bosses' envy is extremely difficult. We have to rebuild our notion that people are there to help. Sometimes they are there to make you fail."

The hard realities of life at the top were highlighted recently by the troubles at Hewlett-Packard. Patricia Dunn was appointed to chair the company in February 2005. Her run-in with office politics and the pressures of the job led to her dramatic fall from grace only seven months later. From the start, there was a serious difference of style and approach between Dunn and fellow director Tom Perkins, centred on their differing views of how to manage the board. In an attempt to stop leaks, Dunn is believed to have allowed a private security firm to use illegal means to obtain personal telephone records of the company's directors, as well as those of a journalist. She is now facing conspiracy and fraud charges with four others.

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