Short time. Great inspirations.


From manager to leader: 4 key steps you need to make

lack-of-empowerment“What does your job consist of exactly? What are your responsibilities as a leader?”

These are questions I have asked many managers at different levels – team leaders, heads of department, directors – at leadership training sessions over the last ten years.

Listening to their answers I find that there is still a huge focus on “budgeting”, “assigning tasks”, “organising”, “controlling”, and “evaluating” – in other words on the management of tasks. Usually the more senior a supervisor is, the more confidently he manages his tasks.

But when it comes to topics such as motivation, inspiration or empowerment this confidence usually evaporates. “I am the only one who comes with ideas. How can I make the others more proactive?” “How can I make them care more?” “How can I motivate them?” managers complain.

Classic management techniques are simply insufficient in the face of the many diverse challenges in organizations of the 21st century. In order to solve complex problems, you need your team members to bring together all their energy, their creativity and their enthusiasm, and for them to show a willingness to cooperate with one another. Without this ‘human fuel’ your company will only be able to achieve a mediocre performance at best.

To bring the most out of your team you need to move from being the manager of tasks to being leader of people.

Here are four key elements that will make you a better leader.

  1. Have a vision

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” (Antoin de Saint Exupery)

Giving your team a vision can be the most powerful way to motivate them. Showing them that the tasks they work on a daily basis actually have a meaning: we do what we do because we would like to get somewhere, to achieve something. By having a vision – a direction – even the most boring or daunting of tasks will become more meaningful.

However, you will find it hard to create a credible vision for your team without discovering your own passion first. Your personal aspiration will motivate others only as long as you truly believe in it. So your job starts by looking into yourself and discovering what drives you. In order to be a visionary leader, you have to reveal yourself.

In the film “Any Given Sunday” the coach played by Al Pacino, gives his team a speech before the big game. He doesn’t talk about tactics. He doesn’t assign tasks. He talks about the ‘why’. He doesn’t manage his team, rather he leads and inspires them by revealing his own vulnerability.

So, in order to become a visionary leader it is time you moved out of your task-focused attitude and define where you and your team are heading.

  1. Give space. Empower your team

“Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” (George S. Patton)

Most managers hold their subordinates on a tight leash. These bosses would like to make sure that things are done ‘right’. But being closely controlled by your manager is not only demotivating for senior colleagues, it also stops them from fulfilling their potential. Leadership is about empowering people, letting people try things out for themselves so that they may make the most of the own abilities. You have to learn to trust in your team members instead of controlling them all the time. (On this topic see also my previous post on the vicious circle of micromanagement)

“But this is risky!” you might cry. Of course it is. But learning to be a leader involves learning to take risks and accept the fact that mistakes will happen. But in the long run it is worth it because the improved productivity of an empowered team will make up for those odd mistakes many times over.

Yesterday I met a manager who went on a six-week holiday in the summer (the first time she had done this for many years), leaving her team behind to run the business. “It was reassuring to see that my team could actually cope. In my absence they had to do things that are usually my job to do. And they did it well. It went better than I had expected,” she said. “It was hard work but a great experience,” said one of her team members, before adding, “We tried new things, and we learned a lot.”

It is amazing to see all the energy that get unleashed once a manager decides to take a step back and lets their team surprise them with the results. So become a leader by giving your team more space.

  1. Develop your people

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” (Sam Walton)

Giving the team more space doesn’t mean withdrawing your support; rather it means moving from close control and micromanagement to intensive focus on development.

But how do you exactly develop your colleagues? Many managers’ instinctive reaction is to ‘tell them what to do’, to instruct them until they ‘learn’ the work.

Even though the ability to provide clear instructions is an essential management skill, the more senior your colleagues are, the more counterproductive this management style becomes. Telling them what to do and how to do it will result in a dwindling sense of responsibility, declining creativity, and quite often a loss of motivation.

Those leaders, on the other hand, who ‘coach’ their colleagues by asking questions, by giving lots of feedback and by providing plenty of opportunities to try new things will find that their team becomes much less reliant on their leader; instead they become much more confident, more self-sufficient and more willing to take on responsibility.

So if you find that your colleagues are not proactive enough, if you find that they seem reluctant to take responsibility, why don’t you start changing them by changing your own leadership style first?

  1. Build a team

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” (Michael Jordan)

You are not only a leader of individuals, but of a group of people with the potential to work as team. Consciously fostering cooperation between your colleagues will make a huge improvement in their personal and collective performance. All that energy that was previously wasted in petty office rivalry, sniping and mistrust can now be utilized to create great things.

So how can you facilitate team work?

  • Give people in your team the opportunity to get to know each other. You may want to organise a team-building event, or just a regular evening out together, but make sure your colleagues have the chance to connect personally.
  • Define roles and responsibilities clearly to avoid unnecessary friction and frustration.
  • Value each role. Appreciate the assistant’s work just as much as that of the top salesperson. Demonstrate that you are all working for the same goal.
  • Give positive feedback on exemplary cooperation, in doing so highlighting the importance of teamwork.
  • Celebrate success. Allow yourselves to pause from time to time to appreciate what you have achieved together.

Strong teams don’t just happen by accident. They are built and nurtured by strong leaders. By shifting your focus from tasks to do to building a powerful team you can unleash the human potential no ‘task manager’ can ever achieve.