From Manager to Executive: Navigating the Leadership Leap

African American business woman shaking hands with another business man

By Bill Hinshaw

Congratulations! You have officially become an “Executive.”   

What a moment, what an opportunity, what a responsibility. Now it’s time to ask yourself a critical question, “Now that I made it, how will this new stage be different, and what will it require?”    

It is important to intentionally prepare for executive leadership for two reasons:   

  1. This is a time of intense change and demands  
  2. This is the stage where I have seen the most spectacular “failures”  

I respect Dwight D. Eisenhower’s concept that “plans are nothing and planning is everything.” In this context it means that while you may not know exactly what future role you will be in, you can intentionally develop relevant skills and experiences.    

I am also a huge believer in self- and leadership development, starting with self-awareness as it helps you understand your impact, leadership purpose, and methods to lead authentically. I would also encourage you to seek out both content training and mentorship of leaders.    

What are some of the key differences when you take on an executive leadership role? As an executive leader, the scope and breadth of responsibility increases, your leadership approach may need to change, and your communication approach is key.    

Scope and Focus for Executive Leaders  

You are now an enterprise leader responsible for the entirety of the business verses leading a functional part of the company reporting to an executive. Internally and externally, you represent the company.   

This is a mindset change. You are an enterprise leader first. When the team is facing an opportunity or challenge, you’re thinking and discussion starts with impact on the whole company to fully and clearly evaluate the situation and options.   

Then you represent the group you lead, and, finally, lean in for the team. This may not sound like a big difference, but it fundamentally changes the nature of a discussion and outcome verses starting with the impact on “your” team. 

Your Executive Leadership Approach Will Change  

The old adage “what got you here will not get you there” becomes real at this moment. You are shifting from leading through your personal power to leading through others via purpose, principles, objectives, processes, and systems.   

This is a critical step to amplify your leadership impact. You are no longer the true content expert but the integrator, connector, strategic guide, and thus the approach to leading evolves.  

Ultimately as an executive you are now setting vision, strategy, and supporting the team and culture of the company to deliver the objectives.   

Executive Leaders Must Communicate Not Withhold 

When there are multiple functions working on the corporate objectives it is common for the timing, coordination, or strategy to get disjointed. This requires a focus on leadership and process.   

To align the team, you need to ensure the team has both information symmetry and goal symmetry. This is often overlooked but aligns the efforts and helps the team make decisions independently.   

Communication is a key executive skill to build, whether framing an issue, synthesizing complex information, inspiring the team, or something else. Study it, practice it, master it.  

It is less about being an inspiring charismatic stage presenter than being clear, simple, consistent, and anticipating what information is needed, the flow to communicate it, and the clarity for action aligned with the company values and purpose.   

In my experience there are two important and effective approaches for framing the situation to help the team understand and address it more fully. A sound method for getting more diverse inputs and alignment is to be clear what you are solving for then support with:  

  • Situation analysis 
  • Options 
  • Implications 
  • Ongoing recommendation 
  • Rationale 
  • Next steps, responsibilities, and timing   

The second approach is bigger picture using an integrated roadmap that frames the key phases for the company in multiple dimensions such as: 

  • Strategy 
  • Portfolio 
  • Financial 
  • Organizational 

Resources Help Support Your Executive Leadership Journey 

Being an executive is hard, often lonely, and requires a lot of work and responsibility. It is remarkably fulfilling from a personal standpoint and, ultimately, one of the most human inspirations of all – having a positive impact on others.    

While there are many useful resources for this stage of leadership, here are a few that I have found useful: 

  • The Heath Brothers: Multiple excellent books on decision making, communication, influence 
  • SQUARE: A communication method built for executives and the inductive approach verses the typical deductive approach. 

Continued learning and professional development will also help you evolve as an executive leader and continue to grow in your career. Whether you want to focus on the fundamental leadership skills or more advanced skills required of executive leadership you can find programs that fit your own development needs. 


Bill Hinshaw is a life sciences executive with more than 30 years of professional leadership experience including the U.S., more than 120 countries, and global organizations at Schering Plough and Novartis as well as private and public biotech companies. He has been inspired by incredible leaders during his life, starting with his parents Bill and Virginia, who taught him to be intentional about learning and to respect the privilege of leadership by being authentic and committed.