C-Suite Lifestyle

Why we need to invest in our B-Suite leaders

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.

Why are they now critical? 

Massive and recent shifts in business pace, personalisation and 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 into personalisation, especially important when it comes to the engagement and wellbeing of anxious, disconnected teams dealing with a level of ambiguity we haven’t seen for 100 years.
  • Doing more with less means a constant negotiation of resources and boundaries, which only  B-Suite leaders have the authority and the peer connections to achieve successfully.

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 achieve strategic impact, 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 inhouse 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.

Written by Rebecca Houghton. Have you read?
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Rebecca Houghton
Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’ ($29.95), is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level. Her passion is helping to evolve how leaders think, take action and relate to others, working with leaders and leadership teams to achieve greater impact.


Rebecca Houghton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.