Brian Fielkow

Managers Can be True Leaders Not Just Taskmasters

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A quick glance at articles comparing leaders with managers might lead to the hasty conclusion that a leader is broad minded and benevolent, capable of thinking in terms of the long term and motivating and inspiring employees. The manager role is typically described as coping with the status quo, thinking for the short term and issuing requests from the executive branch.

In my opinion, it’s potentially damaging to put too much emphasis on contrasts. “Manager” refers to a position in an organization, while leadership is a quality. Experience tells me that some managers can also be excellent leaders.

Managers are often in the most thankless positions. They must execute company objectives and are tasked with often unpopular actions like implementing cost controls or enforcing employee discipline and carrying out layoffs. Plus, in an entrepreneurial business, the manager acts as the buffer or gatekeeper between the president and owner and the rest of the organization.

I spent a long time in managerial roles and am now privileged to run my own company, which has allowed me to see the convergence of leadership and management from a different perspective.

So, for new or mid-level managers hoping to move up into increasingly senior leadership roles, here’s what I wished I knew when I was in your position:

1. Hold the CEO accountable.
Promoting accountability in the workplace does not involve the dynamics of a parent-child relationship. Yet managers are not just responsible for holding subordinates accountable. Rather, accountability should flow in all directions throughout the organization. To build and sustain a successful organization, every person in the company must hold one another accountable, including those of higher rank.

2. Be yourself.
Plenty of people will tell you how to act around your CEO or other senior leaders. The key is to always be yourself. Don’t put up a front. Be genuine and stay true to who you are. It’s easy to see through a charade.

3. Don’t sweat every last detail.
Managers sometimes don’t want to come forward until all of the data is tied down with 100 percent certainty. I would rather know the direction earlier, with less certainty, however. Don’t spend 70 percent of your time chasing down the last 5 percent, which may not even add significant value. By acting this way, you are showing an ability to make decisions in the face of uncertainty.

4. Avoid looking at the other guy’s wallet.
There are times when a commissioned salesperson who is doing well could potentially outearn a key executive. Never let small thinking get in the way of how people should be compensated and certainly never cap commission plans. Create an environment that defines and rewards individual and team success. Never let anyone else’s jealousy distract you.

5. Be informed.
Develop multiple data sources in your organization. Don’t let a culture develop where it’s politically incorrect for you or anyone else to speak with other people in the organization. To be successful, you need feedback from your frontline employees and beyond. Identify your key opinion leaders and listen to them. Make sure they feel empowered to communicate with you because I guarantee you they’re communicating with other employees and influencing perceptions.

6. Manage behavior.
A big part of the job is managing behavior. The minute some managers discover that this is a part of their job, they think it’s a kindergarten task. It’s not. You must ensure employee behavior is in line with your organization’s values and that your employees not only understand the company’s values but also never compromise them. As a key executive, managing behavior is one of the most important things you can do to engender a vibrant culture and ultimately bring your company forward.

7. Put your mission and value statements into action.
The point of these documents is not to just place a poster on the wall. When it comes to your mission and value statements, you must have a plan to put them in action. Communicate them over and over again. Your employees are the ones who will breathe life into these statements, and it is your responsibility to be sure these goals and values are clearly understood. Employees will also pick up quickly on hypocrisy, when leaders post a set of values yet conduct themselves in a contrary manner.

8. Know the 20/60/20 rule.
When your company is engaged in fundamental change, be sure you understand the 20/60/20 rule. This means 20 percent of your employees will already be on board, and 60 percent of the employees are winnable. And 20 percent will never be convinced, so don’t waste your time. Once you explain and implement the case for a change, the faster you can move forward with it. But always remember that you won’t win over everyone.

Related: Are You a Leader or a Manager? Why Understanding the Difference is Important.

9. You may be good today but what about tomorrow?
Sure, you as a manager may be in good shape now, but are you setting yourself up to succeed in the future? Keeping up with the trends, technology and what is happening in your organization and industry is essential to your company’s long-term success and growth. Develop your own personal plan and evolve and stay relevant. Don’t allow yourself to become a dinosaur.

10. Implement the three Ts.
Whether you’re dealing with a CEO or another employee, follow the three Ts: respectful treatment, transparency and trust. When these are upheld, you set yourself up for a successful relationship that has flowing communication. When any of these are violated, you risk potentially losing an employee or damaging a relationship.