By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), Client Partner for Partners in Leadership, and an expert and author on breakthrough communications, global human resources, and talent development
Today, as baby boomers retire and exit the workforce in droves, nearly 60% of organizations claim that one of their top priorities is closing the leadership gap that this movement has created. As millennials increasingly take on top managerial roles, more money is being filtered into leadership development initiatives than any other area of corporate learning -- yet a staggering 71% of companies do not feel their leaders are sufficiently prepared to lead them into the future.
This enduring leadership gap can largely be attributed to a misunderstanding of exactly what leadership is. Leadership and management are not the same. Employees often secure managerial roles due to their relevant experience and ability to effectively command operations and systems -- not necessarily because they are natural-born leaders.
So what are the distinguishing factors between one who manages systems to ensure a team achieves desired results, and one who unifies and mobilizes teams to create a high-performing company culture?
Effective Management: Optimizing Operations and Hitting Benchmarks
Effective management is a means to an end: it requires optimizing processes within an organization to generate favorable business outcomes. For the most part, doing so depends on leveraging proven skills and adhering to established policies to get the job done -- in other words, working within the status quo to increase operational efficiencies and thereby generate better results.
Take this example: a four-star general in the U.S. Army commanded troops who were focused, timely, and disciplined. He planned meeting agendas down to the minute, optimized every process for greater efficiency, and kept all of his reports in check. As such, he delivered on results that were required of him by superiors.
However, the general neglected to make the time to share his larger vision with the soldiers or communicate openly with them. He focused on short-term goals while neglecting to address a larger, driving purpose.
As a result, he was unable to create true alignment among his troops. They were disciplined but did not have a clear understanding of the shared targets toward which they should enthusiastically work. As such, the general experienced high turnover and low levels of personal accountability among the people who reported to him. The general knew he was an effective manager -- but did not know how to be an inspiring leader.
Effective Leadership: Uniting People Around a Shared Vision
Creating sustained alignment among employees is a hallmark of effective leadership -- in fact, the fundamental difference between management and leadership is that leadership is necessarily human-centric. While managers build systems and processes, leaders build relationships.
What's more, good management doesn't necessarily precipitate great leadership. In some cases, leadership may actually rely on principles that are counterintuitive to effective management. For instance, succeeding as a leader may demand breaking the status quo and casting aside traditional tactics in favor of risk-taking.
Consider this example: a manager joined a new division within his organization, in which he was tasked with overseeing a team that operated outside of his functional expertise. The division was facing unusually high rates of turnover due to low employee satisfaction and a lack of alignment among team members. While this manager did not have direct experience in the division's operational domain, he understood the keys to effective leadership: open communication and an ability to inspire employees to align around a common vision.
The leader made an effort to seek honest feedback about employees' unique experiences, expertise, and goals. He integrated their feedback into his larger vision for the team and introduced efforts to communicate this vision to every member of the division. By making an ongoing effort to communicate openly and honestly and showing that he valued the input of every team member, he gained his employees' trust and investment in the overarching vision. As a result of this proactive leadership, the team was able to achieve not only benchmark results, but increased alignment that led to an overall reduction in turnover.
How Good Managers Can Become Great Leaders
To grow from being an adequate manager to a leader who inspires and aligns others around a unifying vision for success, change your approach -- beginning with these guidelines:
- Identify areas in which you can spend more time with people face-to-face, and seize those opportunities to build trusting relationships with direct reports.
- Instead of adopting a punitive approach to feedback, implement a feedback model that is radically egalitarian. Promote the open exchange of ideas between leadership and direct reports, practice active listening, and use employees' feedback to both optimize operations and create a compelling vision for the team.
- Coach employees rather than commanding them. Use your skills as a human-centric leader to help every employee reach their highest potential and deliver on critical results.
- Don't rely on "how it's always been done." Instead, practice calculated risk-taking and approach leadership through the lens of innovation, which can lead to higher payoff in the long run.
- Invest more time and effort in communicating your vision instead of focusing all of your energy on managing workflows, budgets, and other operational tasks.
- Create a culture of collaboration by encouraging creative problem-solving, open communication, and cross-functional accountability.
Integrating these practices into your daily approach to management can position you as a leader who aligns employees around a common vision in order to achieve sustainable results while at the same time maximizing retention, employee satisfaction, and organization-wide accountability.