6 Ways to Stop Managing and Start Leading

Sometimes it’s not easy to adjust when someone is asked to take on a leadership role at their organizations. The transition from being a manager or a supervisor in the organization to one of a  leader is fraught with pitfalls. And sometimes those pitfalls can drag us down; preventing us from growing and making that leap into becoming a confident leader.

What does it take to be a leader? And what is it about some good managers that keeps them from being successful as an organization’s leader? And what are some of the best ways to ensure you successfully make the transition from manager to leader?

1. Embrace a vision

I’m not completely sold on the idea that some people are born “visionary” and some aren’t. Do I think some people are more naturally big-picture thinkers? Yes. Do I think others can’t be? No. I’ve seen plenty of detail-oriented managers/supervisors who are able to step back and outline and share a broad, longer-term vision that can guide their organizations.

One thing I think managers have going for them (especially if they’ve been in a particular business a long time) is knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of a business. They know what makes a business run. By knowing these details, they are quite able to know the repercussions/consequences of their decisions throughout the organization. I’ve seen plenty of executives that make broad decisions without truly appreciating what changes they are putting in place. They don’t understand the impact their decisions have on the company and its employees.

I saw this dynamic play out just recently when the CEO of a business I am familiar with chose to reorganize. He clearly hadn’t thought the decision’s impact all the way through. He just sort of “dumped” the idea on his team (that didn’t even know he was considering this idea). They felt blind-sided, confused, and frustrated by the decision. Not a great way to build an engaged/committed team. A more successful way to demonstrate true leadership would have been to invite others into the decision to help define the strategic issues and to craft a solution.

2. Climb up out of the details

The issue I see most often when managers fail to make the manager-to-leader transition is that they simply can’t let go of knowing every single detail. They are used to living in the detailed information flow. It feels strange (and can be difficult) to stay out of all the details.

A friend of mine who runs a 40-person professional-services company that he founded told me a while back that he knew he was becoming a “leader” when he realized that he couldn’t even name all their clients. He struggled for years trying to keep up with every client and the status of every project. He sought ways to make sure he was “in the loop” of everything that went on in the company. Once he came to terms with letting go of some of the detail his company took off.

There’s not time to review and digest all the details. Decentralizing and simply letting go and letting others do their jobs is key. Getting comfortable with that may not be easy for people. But it is important to becoming a leader.

3. Become comfortable making decisions with incomplete information

As managers we are used to having a flow of hard data to look at regularly. Manufacturing, shipping, sales, purchasing, billing, collections, etc. are driven by numbers. And we love that ability to look at and manage the processes around improving those numbers. Concrete data (and he ability to measure it) gives us confidence in our decisions.

The life of a leader is quite different. More strategic, longer-term decisions are not grounded in a granular level of detail, but rather are made by looking from a wider-angle, bigger-picture perspective. Hard data at this level is typically incomplete or nonexistent. A long-term decision about a company’s strategic direction is not made by looking at exact information. Instead it’s often made by understanding, reading, and reacting to the broader, more strategic currents.

4. Stand tall

Some of us are simply uncomfortable with being at the top of the decision tree – and living with the consequences of the decisions a leader has to make. But as has been said “That’s why you get the big money”. Some decisions simply require a final decision, by an individual. Someone needs to be willing to accept this level of responsibility. And not all of us are willing to do so. But, this is one of the things that separates a leader from a manager. A leader must be willing to make a “gut” decision and stand by it. A leader has to become comfortable “making the tough call” when all the data’s not in. They have to rely on their experience and their judgment.

The key for you as a leader is to trust yourself. Certainly gather whatever relevant information you can to make a decision – and then trust your instincts and go ahead and make the decision. Be willing to be that confident, decision-maker.

5. Become the “face” of the organization

As I’ve talked about before on this blog, the leader has to be comfortable being the face of the organization to the outside world (Read: “You Are the Face of Your Business“). They may be called upon to be a spokesperson. They might have to represent the organization all sorts of situations – conferences, seminars, speeches, interviews, investor/business partner meetings, marketing/promotions, community events, etc. Some situations just lend themselves to the leader representing the organization.

You also should be willing to be the face of the company’s leadership internally with employees. Certain situations require a leader to step forward and be in front of the team. During challenging times the company might be looking for that steady hand at the wheel. That’s leadership.

I know some of us are more comfortable playing this role than others. And I have seen managers (who are used to being an important cog, but a cog nonetheless, in a wheel) try to avoid this element of leadership. I believe that if you truly believe in the organization’s mission and vision you will be much more comfortable being its primary spokesperson. If you are uneasy about playing this role just remind yourself about how you are furthering the organization’s fundamental purpose and that you should be honored to be its spokesperson.

6. Shift your persona

Even though it comes with its own challenges, sometimes it’s easier to come into a leadership role from outside an organization. You begin with a fresh, unknown persona. Those around you have typically not worked with you before. You’re have a blank slate that you can mold from the outset. When talking with managers who have become leaders of their organizations one thing they often talk about it having to move past the past. You are known to your fellow employees; and that comes with potential pitfalls. They know your strengths, your weak spots, your personality, your style. They have formed some sort of impression of you that you may find to be a help or possibly a hinderance.

It begins with having confidence in yourself. Know that there was a reason you were chosen to take on this leadership role. Envision yourself as a successful leader. Commit yourself to making the transition and confidently playing this new role.

And sometimes you have to fight through some lingering personality and political aspects of the transition. Some may just not know how to react to you in your new role. Relationships have changed and people have to adjust. And you may find downright resistance. Others may see you only as a manager or supervisor. Some may feel that they or others should be in your position instead. After all, you are just that person who was managing a piece of the organization just weeks ago, and now you are leading it? Really? For those with some New Testament knowledge, you may hear echoes of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 13:57 – “And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.'”. This is simply a struggle to overcome.

What’s the best way to deal with these situations? First, keep your eye on the long-term. You do hold this position of leadership, and you must maintain the aura of the leader. Never allow yourself to get dragged down into the mud. One way to demonstrate leadership is to remain above the fray. You will win over others by being the leader your organization needs. You were given this position, so clearly others see leadership skills and/or potential in you. Live up to that, and not allow yourself to get pulled down. Sometimes the best way to handle these situations is to tackle them proactively. Acknowledge that some may be feeling unease at your new role and changed relationships. Admit that no leader can make an organization run on his or her own.  Note that you are committed to doing what’s right for the organization and give assurances that your relationships will morph over time in a positive way. Continue to earn trust and build confidence and the rest will follow.

Taking on any new role can be difficult. Taking on the role of an organization’s leader can be immensely challenging. But, recognizing those challenges and managing (ok, leading) your way through them is possible. Before you know it, you will be the leader you’ve always known you can be. The transition will be left behind and you and your organization will be sailing headlong into a confident, successful future.

______ . ______

Being a business’s leader is never easy. Transitioning into the leadership role is particularly challenging. I’d love to help you hone your leadership skills and make that transition successfully. Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let’s explore how I can help you and your business succeed.  No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com.

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