The opportunities and threats of taking charge.

This is the fourth coaching letter in a series offered as part of my regular column. It responds to real
questions managers in small or medium enterprises have asked me. Both company and individual
information has been disguised and sometimes blended with others to be relevant to more people.

In previous columns I described taking a first management role and then moving into more strategic
responsibility for a function. Now we look at taking full profit and loss (P&L) responsibility for a
business unit.

In a small company this would usually go with being CEO, but in this case the person I am writing to
has been given full P&L responsibility to create a new unit within the company. The company has
about 100 people. The current focus on wholesale customers will continue, and the new business
unit will package smaller amounts and sell directly to consumers. I wrote:

Congratulations! Now you get the chance to test yourself against the “bottom line” criterion of
business: can you create a sustainable return on investment?

Increased autonomy brings great opportunities and some threats. Although your colleagues in the
top team are really supportive (a rare gift!), in a sense you are on your own. In creating a whole new
market for the company, you will have to gather data, compare alternative strategies and choose
one, implement fiercely, stick with the task even when no one is noticing, and justify your existence
by increasing cost-efficient revenue. Then you should add your legal, social, ethical and
environmental responsibilities – as a leader you join all other leaders in influencing society, whether
or not you are aware of it.

The position brings huge opportunities for growth. You will develop even greater self-reliance. You
will need to grow a new network with the most senior members in the industry and beyond,
including government.

You will develop heightened judgement. The strategic “helicopter” view is wider, longer and deeper
and requires noticing things you may not have looked at before. Strategic matters include the
competitive landscape; social, cultural, political and economic trends with implications for at least
five years into the future; legal requirements in each jurisdiction you work in; and environmental

You cannot rely on anyone else to make things happen, so initiative is important. You will need to
devote time to thinking; it’s part of the job.

Leadership requires being comfortable with paradoxes and trade-offs. You have to balance short
term and long term results. You will need to allocate resources and resolve the competing demands
of your team. You will have to be both implacably hard on performance and affirming of people, as
your success depends on their commitment and competence. And you will want to build capacity in
the team so the unit thrives after you leave.

Success also requires leading yourself. You will make mistakes, but as leader you cannot afford to
give up or fall apart. What are the possible personal challenges?

It can be lonely. Find yourself a good mentor or a few trusted peers to bounce ideas off and to
generate energy. People will relate to you differently – as the boss rather than yourself. Being new
to the role, you have to balance portraying confidence while learning as fast as you can from
everyone around you.

There will be times when you feel anxious – “Will I cope? Is this taking me where I want to be in my
career? Am I aligned with what is expected of me?” Your success will be partly dependent on factors
beyond your control, like market conditions.

But this is the opportunity your career has prepared you for. So enjoy it!

Jonathan Cook, a counselling psychologist, chairs the African Management Institute. This is a coaching columns for Business Day, published on 25 July 2022 (https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-07-25-jonathan-cook-bonuses-and-burdens-of-being-a-boss/).

If you’d like to read previous columns in this series or ask Jonathan a question please visit

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