To Lead or Not to Lead: That is the Manager’s Question

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In my work as a leadership coach, I find many of my clients have leadership potential though they are often currently defined as managers. The question is whether they have what it takes and the desire to lead.

An obvious distinction exists between a manager and a leader, and I have seen many managers who show up as leaders while many so-called leaders who were really managers with elevated titles.

Organizational consultant and author Warren Bennis says managers do things right and leaders do the right things. There is a very big difference between the two.

It has also been said that organizations make managers, but people make leaders. While managers have employees, leaders have followers.

In order to become an effective leader, a different mindset must be present in the following subject areas:

Subject Manager Leader
Vision Follows Delivers & Communicates
Time frame Present Future
Status quo Works within Challenges
Planning Short term Long term
Focus Managing work Inspiring people
People Administrates & controls Motivates & inspires
Challenge Complexity Change
Questions How and When Why and What
Relies upon Control Trust
Risks Minimizes Takes

These mindsets are extremely valuable to one in a leadership position. However, they can be detrimental if adopted by a manager who is not yet capable or recognized as a leader.

It’s a tricky position to migrate from manager to leader, and there are many obstacles in the way. The biggest obstacle is undoubtedly fear.

Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, writes of an updated Peter Principle whereby people rise to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear. This fear keeps people from persevering when things get tough.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is most needed. It is at this place when you are truly tested and where you often need to take a stand against conventional wisdom, status quo and what your colleagues are unwilling to do. This is often what separates leaders from managers.

And while every manager is unable to become an executive in the C-suite, that doesn’t mean he or she cannot lead. In fact, some of the very best leaders are managers who able to quietly get things done, challenge the status quo and make needed change. They are the real movers and shakers in the organization, and they are likely gaining followers.

Godin describes the elements of leadership as:

  • Leaders challenge the status quo.
  • Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
  • Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
  • Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
  • Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
  • Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
  • Leaders connect their followers to one another.

“Find leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers—and things get better. They always get better.”

Leaders must have a vision and see it through to completion in spite of the resistance. They must be realistic, but also unrelenting. Ultimately, leadership is a choice and each of us must decide whether we are up to the challenge or not.

photo credit: N07/5217160895″>Leadership quote via photopin (license)

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