12 effective tips for training managers to become leaders

Important vs Urgent matrix

Important vs Urgent matrix

Most leaders are good managers, but the converse is not always true.  Some very efficient managers fail in bridging the gap towards becoming effective leaders.  While charisma, looks and a magnetic personality play a small part in the physical make-up of a leader, there are some conscious attributes that can be developed in training the efficient managers to become effective leaders.

First, let’s lay the context for this discussion.

Warren Bennis famously quoted that “the best leaders I know are both leaders and managers”.  In his 1989 book, titled, “On Becoming a Leader” among other things, Bennis highlights ten differences between leaders and managers.  These differences are described quite well by Michael McKinney in “A False Dichotomy”.

Bennis regrets that he did not emphasize the need for effective managers, but he feels that effective management skills are embodied in good leaders.  However, it takes something more for a good manager to bridge the gap and transform into an effective leader.

To quote Bennis, “Leadership and management are simply different and serve different purposes. The fundamental purpose of management is to keep the current system functioning. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially non-incremental change. It is possible to have too much or too little of either. Strong leadership with no management risks chaos; the organization might walk right off a cliff. Strong management with no leadership tends to entrench an organization in deadly bureaucracy”.

Bennis’ differences indicate that there is a gap between management and leadership.  Each has a different perspective, set of qualities and purpose.

At the same time, Bennis’ assertion that the best leaders are also good managers indicates that organizations can take effective steps in training managers to become effective leaders.

John Kotter in a Harvard Business Review blog has also brought out the synonymous use of leadership and management and explains the difference between the two terms.

According to Kotter:

Management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week.  Management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior.

We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient.

At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.

The focus of this post is to lay out some practical and effective tips in training managers to become leaders.

Here they are:

1.      Look to bring value

As a good manager, you can “take the order” and deliver it to perfection, on time, within budget and of a very high quality.

To move towards effective leadership, you want to go much further than that.  Look at processes to see if they can be improved.  Look at other projects and tasks to see if there are synergies that can be gained by combining two or more initiatives.  Look at the people in the projects and see if any of them can be moved to other more meaningful roles.

Once you identify any of these, let the “powers-that-be” know and make the change happen.

In other words, see the vision, articulate it and communicate a plan on getting there.

I know of a lady-colleague in Germany who was the project manager on the business side for a process harmonization and consolidation project.  Three of our plants were doing the same thing differently using three separate instances of the same business software.  This was a major project affecting three facilities and multiple stakeholders.  Delivering the harmonization and a consolidated solution would really give my friend a huge leg-up in terms of capability, credibility and career progression.

When she saw that the project was going to cost over a million dollars, she promptly went to the Executive VP and nixed the project.  My friend said that this huge investment was not justified and she’d rather have status quo prevail.  I thought that was a very bold move, which may even have jeopardized her career.

But she stood up for what she thought was right even though it went against her own progress.

And guess what – her action was recognized and she is now promoted and heads a major department in Germany for the company.

2.     Be flexible

A number of managers like to be perfect.  They are very good at following structure, methodology, procedures and work instructions.  They are good at reviewing, auditing and enforcing such procedures.  But when something ambiguous or uncertain shows up, they are thrown out of their comfort zone.

To move towards leadership, managers must look beyond the allocated task that they are striving to accomplish.  They need to understand the big picture and how the current project puzzle fits into it.  Asking “why” and understanding the environment and context in which a certain project is being implemented really helps in knowing the degree of perfection that is required.

It is very easy to get sucked into analysis-paralysis, i.e. applying the same rigor for important as well as trivial tasks.  Flexibility is required and must be exercised on a case by case basis.  Flexibility must always be accompanied by strong communication.  Otherwise your decision in one situation which is contrary to your decision in another similar situation may be interpreted as inconsistent behavior.  To avoid this, you need to clearly articulate the differences in the situation that call for differing decisions.  As an example, you may choose to grant a deadline extension for a task that is not on the critical path.  In another similar situation, you may choose to enforce the deadline very rigidly, because you are aware of the repercussions that the delay could cause in another dependent project.  This needs to be communicated.

3.     Stamp your culture on the organization

Culture and value system go hand in hand.  By building a solid value system you will ensure that the right culture and values are spread.  These things permeate team members’ minds and the interspaces unconsciously, so it is important that you internalize your values.  That way you are seen to be doing what you preach (do as I do, not do as I say).

These qualities are mostly evident in areas of conflict management, time management, display of non-bias, recognition, equanimity, communication, listening skills and general behavior.

4.     Spread your value system

Whether it is your time management or the way you handle conflicts around you, folks should have a good idea of what you stand for. Folks around you should also be able to predict your reaction to a situation.  This means that you have set a consistent pattern of behavior.

Whether you allow three strikes before taking action, or allow ten minutes grace time for meeting commencement, you are infusing your presence and culture on you team.

Every effective leader leaves their indelible stamp on the organization.

5.      If you say you’ll do something, do it

You must keep your promises.  Whether it is a commitment to a task, a meeting or simply a promise to take a team member out to lunch, make sure you take your words very seriously and keep the promise. If you don’t, you will find your credibility eroded very quickly.

It is difficult and downright challenging to keep promises.  This is why you should promise very carefully and consider only those that you can deliver.  Keeping your promises is another trait that gets noticed and spreads very fast, positions you as a person of integrity and must be part of your value system.

6.     Clearly distinguish between the important and urgent tasks

Doing urgent tasks is unavoidable.  But if you only keep doing the urgent tasks, then you are not only generating more and more urgent tasks, but giving up the opportunity to set up the important tasks.  Sounds confusing?  Check out the time management matrix, mooted by Stephen Covey.

7.      Position your team-member for success

Check out the story on how I helped equip a team member with knowledge, confidence and a strategy for taking on a task which she was just left holding.  For her, it felt as if everyone else took a step back and she got an unenviable and challenging job.

With my assistance and presence, she was able to conduct a very confident and effective kick-off and the ensuing 3-month effort was a huge success.

As an effective leader, you should identify those with potential and assign them challenging tasks.  At the same time, do everything in your power to ensure their success.  Conversely, by not preparing someone, withholding key information, slipping in things and tasks just before a deadline can all be demeaning and setting someone up for failure.  Next time you will not find people to take up tasks.  Good leaders do not do this.

8.     Use delegation to empower people

Check out the parent vs. babysitter, and then identify the importance of the task.  Since you probably know the personalities in your team, you should be well-positioned to assign the right man to the right job.


9.     Work on your own development

A leader is constantly developing.  You got to keep reading, building your value system, constantly gaining knowledge and building your network of contacts.  Keep a development plan handy.  The Five O’clock Club even has a forty-year plan to “create the future on your terms”!

10. Work on development of your team-members   

It is much easier (and believable) to goad your team members to build their development plans when they see you working on yours.   Everyone needs a coach, a guide, a mentor.  As a leader, one of the ways you can fulfill that role is by taking keen interest in your team member’s development.

Find out what is important to a high-potential team member and begin discussing it.  I once worked very closely with my cricket team-mate on his application form for an Ivy-League MBA program.  While he was satisfied with the first couple of iterations, I was not.  I kept on refining the main essay and we must have spent at least 15-20 hours on it.  My involvement, dedication and desire to see this activity through to perfection was not lost on my friend.  I recognized that for a purpose such as this, we had to get it as perfect as possible.

When my friend got the admission that he so badly wanted, he was overjoyed.  As for me, it tightened our bond even further.  I know I can count on him anytime for anything from here on.

All this is a direct result of my very keen interest in his development!

11.   Become the “go-to” person 

This is huge.  You should be seen as the go-to person not only for your own team or department, but also for others.  This does not happen by accident.  You have to consciously help out folks whether it is by sharing your experience, your knowledge or simply your support.  Remember that the accent in on sharing your experience and support, guiding people on how to manage their tasks, conflicts and difficult situations.  For knowledge they can always hire expert help.  For such kinds of soft-skills and ambiguous situations, they need help from within the organization. Put yourself out there.

12.  Share your knowledge

In continuation with being seen as the go-to person, sharing your knowledge helps you gain respect and recognition.  Of course, to share knowledge, you have to be continually developing your own knowledge.  Becoming a “knowledge leader” is a first step towards becoming an effective leader.

Use the comments section below to add to this list!

Infographic: (c) Kay Leadership Academy