Managers to Leaders

Managers to leaders-21 ways to make the transition

My profession as a keynote speaker takes me to several corporate gatherings every year. This gives me a deeper glimpse at the very fabric of organizational co-ordinance between managers and people. Great organizations know that the internal growth of the organization is in the development of its leaders at all levels, but the irony is that organizations develop managers to step into the shoes of leaders. Those shoes do not fit well, because managers are quite different from leaders.

A lot of people think the words manager and leader are interchangeable.  They are not.  Leaders manage, but managers do not always lead.  In fact, most times managers are not leaders.  First of all leaders do not hate their job while some managers do. In the worst case scenario, some managers do not feel they belong to their organization.

The difference between being a manager and being a leader is quite simple. Management is a career and leadership is a calling. A person becomes a manager by virtue of his position. A person becomes a leader on basis of his personal qualities. Leadership is a vocation. In management people have to follow you because they have to, but in leadership people follow you because they love to. John C Maxwell has said it well “It’s not the position that makes the leader, it’s the leader that makes the position”

Let’s first define the differences between leadership and management. I think that Warren Bennis, an author and leadership expert, best articulated the distinctions that can be made between the two: “The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” 

If you look back in the leadership studies back in till about 1995, most leadership books that are written were really about management. There was no clear distinction made or a close dichotomy between leadership and management. Both belonged to the same page.  A good manger was expected to perform like a great leader.  But many things have changed in the world of management, shareholder ownership; leadership positions, participative management and management structures are reconstructed and revised from time to time.

Today, managers go through leadership development. They are called to be leaders. In fact you can’t manage people but you can manage things and situations. You must lead people. People management is not about control. It is about direction. It is not about monitoring performance but enhancing it.

It is very apt to distinguish that manager’s do things right and leaders do the right thing. Managers do things right. Managing is about maintaining systems, processes and procedures. Management is about managing the work environment and controlling those workplace elements that we can control, measure and monitor. Leaders on the other hand do the right things. Leadership is about influence; dealing with those things those we can’t control- things like people. Leaders understand that leadership is about getting people to do those things that you require them to do, when they are not obligated to do it. It is not about telling people what to do, using a ‘tell them’ approach but it is about asking people what need to be done (ask them approach). People want to be wanted and asked rather than told what to do.

Bottom-line, when we examine the overall scope of the leadership position, we see that great managers maintain corporate direction while great leaders change it. Both roles are very different.

It is not so easy to teach managers to become leaders. It is as difficult as teaching old dogs new tricks. But if you can teach managers the clear distinction between management and leadership, they will see not only the gap, but aspire to make a transition as well.

My quest to developing great leaders in the organizations I work with, led me to developing some leadership strategies that can make the transition among mangers to become great leaders. My new book on leadership development, the second on my innings after ‘High performance leadership’ is titled as ‘Managers to leaders’- 21 ways to leadership transitions.

In my book, I discus about 21 ways to make the leadership transitions. Here is the brief peak into the fundamentals.

1. Managers execute decisions and leaders make decisions.

Managers execute directions and leaders set new directions. Leaders decide on the set of the sail and mangers chart the details.

The transition must be about how managers can develop their decision making skills based on the context they operate and make decisions right and prompt and become responsible for the consequences of the decisions they make.

2 .Leaders lead people and managers manage work and supervise workforce.

Leading people and supervising them are different. Managers measure performance, monitor activities and manage situations with people while leaders direct them, give them a dream and a vision to live up to. The transition is about empowering people. As a leader, you help them design the outcome; you equip them to achieve the outcome by teaching them skills. Here you not only say what has to be done, but you equip people how it can be achieved as well.

3. Managers maintain the status-quo and leaders shake up and challenge the status-quo.

Managers follow rules and leaders break the old rules. Leaders take new path and managers use the existing road. Leaders have the courage to let go of the familiar and embrace the unfamiliar. Leaders set the pace and mangers keep the momentum. Here the major transition for a manager is to embrace the unfamiliar and do the uncomfortable and break away from the comfort zone.

Leaders constitute change and mangers constitute stability. Managers expect certainty and order and leaders envision uncertainty and bring order amidst chaos. Management is a codification of conduct, practices and rules but leadership is about values and beliefs and how they serve in any business environment.

4. Managers are after standardization while leaders are into innovation.

Leadership is about innovating and initiating new thoughts. Management is about copying, about managing the status quo. Leadership is creative, adaptive, and agile. Leadership looks at the horizon, not just the bottom line.

Managers follow a school of thought and leaders are thought leaders. Leaders seek the truth and managers try to establish one. The manager administers while the leader innovates. Here, the transition for a manager is to think differently and innovate solutions with the support of the people they lead.

5. Managers play safe and leaders take risks.

Leaders take on risk and managers minimize the risk. People play safe only in the comfort zone. Growth is about expanding the comfort zone. Goals exist outside the comfort zone and growth in any field is an uncomfortable process of doing the unfamiliar. Leaders take on the risk. They embrace the unknown. They are courageous. The transition for any manager in this aspect is to take responsibility for own decisions and the willingness to plunge into the unfamiliar, trying new things and leap into the unknown with total confidence in the self and others. Leaders have a sense of destiny. Great leaders know that even if they fail several times they will succeed eventually.

6. Managers motivate people with incentives and leaders inspire them with purpose.

When managers try the old method of motivating their subordinates with carrot and stick, leaders inspire their followers with purpose by instilling a sense of direction and mission in their life. The transition for a manager is to trigger the ‘why’ in everything they do.  When people know the ‘why’ behind what they do, they are more engaged in their work. The ‘why’ behind what we do really motivates us. It makes us purpose driven.

7. Leaders are the heart and managers are the brains of an organization.

Leaders appeal to the heart and mangers appeal to the head. Management is about presenting facts and leadership is about presenting feelings. Management is intellectual and leadership is emotional.

Leaders are the heart of a business. The essence of leadership means inspiring a group to come together for a common goal. Leaders motivate, console and work with people to keep them bonded and eager to move forward. That means setting a direction, communicating it to everyone in the organization.

Managers on the other hand, are the brains of a business. They establish systems, create rules and operating procedures, and put into place incentive programs and best practices. Leadership empowers people. To make the leadership transition managers must go beyond short term goals and become active participants in the design of the overall vision of the organization. Leaders set direction with a vision, a mission and operating principles that embody the company’s direction and values.

8. Managers have ‘activity’ orientation and leaders have ‘outcome’ orientation.

Activity and outcome are different as tasks and results are different. Several activities eventually enhance in the completion of outcome. Leaders are focused on the result. They want the outcome and activity is only a means to achieve an outcome. Managers are trapped in the ‘activity trap’ of doing routine things. They do things that were told to do. They delegate the same what they were asked to do, but leader’s eyes are always on the prize. Only outcome matters and leaders know that there many ways to achieve an outcome. They think, strategize and re-strategize their activities and they continue to do so, till an outcome is achieved.

9. Leaders have followers and mangers have subordinates.

Managers are leadership by the title and leaders have no title. Managers have a position of authority vested in them by the company, and their subordinates work for them and largely do as they are told. Management style is transactional, in that the manager tells the subordinate what to do, and the subordinate does this not because they are a blind robot, but because they have been promised a reward (salary or wage) for doing so.

Leaders do not have subordinates – at least not when they are leading. Many organizational leaders do have subordinates, but only because they are also managers. But when they want to lead, they have to give up formal authoritarian control and transactional leadership, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity. Leadership is transformational. To make the transition happen, managers must strive to be transformational and cease to be transactional while dealing with their support system.

10.  Managers have short time goal and leaders have long term vision.

Leaders are visionary, inspirational and have an eye to the future. Managers are operational, hands on, and based in the ‘now’

Management is about attaining short term goals and leadership is about achieving long term vision. Leading is concerned with future direction and managing is about managing current conditions, implementing plans, sustain order and improve efficiency. A leader is someone who has the capacity to create a compelling vision that takes people to a new place, and to translate that vision into action. Leaders draw other people to them by enrolling them in their vision.

11. Mangers are technicians with few management skill sets and leaders have multiple skill sets.

Managers are technicians with a leadership position. To become true leaders they must assimilate other skill sets like more life skills, executive skills, and conceptual skills. Conceptual skills make you an original thinker, a strategist, visionary and a creative problem solver.

12. Leaders give credit and managers take credit for the work.

Leadership is about giving credits. Leaders enjoy helping others to meet their need for recognition and reward. Leaders develop people. When things go wrong they take personal responsibility for that outcome as their leader. Managers blame others while leaders assume 100% responsibility for everything that they are a part of.

13. Management is about processes and leadership is about people.

When a manager makes the shift from process to people and outcome, they become leaders.

14. Management is about problem solving leadership is about possibility thinking.

Leaders are possibility thinkers. They think about what is possible. They think outside the box. They are the blue sky thinkers. They ask questions like ‘what if?’’ why not?’ and ‘how can I?’. These are the magical formulas of possibility thinking.

15. Management is about doing things right and leadership is about doing the right things.

When managers do the right thing, pro actively, without being told, voluntarily, knowing what is right and taking the courage to do it, they act like leaders.

16. Managers light a fire under people and leaders spark the fire in people.

Lighting a fire under people and putting pressure on them is different from inspiring others to act. Leaders light up the fire, they help them fan the fire. Leaders help people to aspire for more. They bring out the best in oneself and others.

17. Managers are into organizing and staffing and leaders align people for a purpose.

Leaders align people under a common shared vision. They bind the people together under common beliefs and values. They unite their people and transform them into a powerful force aligned to achieve a common outcome. Managers see people as departments and divisions of labor but leaders see them as a reflection of oneself striving to succeed and contribute.

18. Leadership is strategic and management is operational.

Managers operate under certain protocols while leaders reinvent all operations. Leaders generate ideas. Remember, they are conceptual thinkers. They invent strategies. When managers begin to give constructive suggestions and ideas for organizational improvement, they are stepping into the shoes of a leader. Often times, managers won’t be heard and they get discouraged, but the real success is in persuading their ideas and making it work with constant perseverance. Great ideas stimulate powerful strategies. Leaders are readers. Managers must know that knowledge is power and consistent learning will accentuate that power. The knowledge is power and the best way to be powerful is to be knowledgeable. But power is only potential power. The real power is when you take action on what you know. Sharing the knowledge and implementing strategies manifest that power. Sharing information is a sign of true leadership and concealing them from followers as an act of manipulation makes a bad leader.

19. Managing is about efficiency. Leading is about effectiveness.

Managing is about how. Leading is about ‘what’ and ‘why.’ Management is about systems, controls, procedures, policies, and structure. Leadership is about influencing people, motivating them and aligning them under one direction.

20. Managers exercise power with authority and leaders exercise power with humility.

One of the major impediments to success in this area of leadership and management is the “pride factor”. Too often managers let their own pride get in the way of providing recognition and sharing or directing credit to others. But sharing credit for a job well done and directing credit to others represents a hallmark of the best leaders. When managers shift from positions and powers to responsibilities and service to their followers, the real shift emerges as they focus on people rather than their egos. When leadership is exercised with humility in the spirit of service, a leader is not only setting an example but he creates an atmosphere of respect and honor among people.

21. Management is professional and leadership is personal.

Managers operate under duties, responsibilities and power structure within a corporation. Leadership operates under the virtue of ‘personhood’ for the ideals one stand for and the value they uphold. Great leaders focus on people development. They build and live great ideals. They share the passion. They enhance the growth of their people. Great leaders are self less. They give from their heart. They stand by their people in good times and bad times. They are committed. They have the peak vision. They aspire people to do more and achieve more.

Managers can make the leadership transitions when they change their focus to personal development and people development. Personal development is essential to discover and embrace one’s own strength and to develop the ability to spot and nurture strengths in other people as well.  Managers must rise above their egos to let go of the pride in the position that is given to them. They must become a coach than a critic. They must let go cynicism in people and must learn to value others highly.

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