Transform your managers into leaders if you want to transform your organization effectively


The current economic crisis has accelerated the need for companies to transform their organizations radically and urgently  and many organizations have embarked on significant transformation programs in order to become more flexible, leaner, more proactive, more cost effective, etc.

Quite often, organizations might be tempted to consider their workforce as the obstacles to successful transformation and frequently one hears or witnesses managers complaining how the workforce is not willing or able to transform itself to meet the challenges of moving to a new business model.

But what if the obstacle is not the workforce but the style of management which is the true blocker?

This is where understanding the difference between leadership and management is key to understanding what may be the true cause of any blockage to successful transformation.

When you set out the differences between management an leadership, you understand that to transform your organization, you have to move from a model centred on “managing” people to a model centred on “leading” people”. This is especially the case if your organization employs significant numbers of “knowledge workers” who have high expectations in terms of understanding the vision and goals of the organization, how they can contribute to these goals, what responsibility they have to drive these goals, how they can develop their skills and continue to learn to be able to meet the new challenges that a continuously changing environment.

This is not to say that leadership should replace management. Both go hand in hand. The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate. However, it is important to understand the difference because this is a first necessary step in being able to adopt the most effective approach when leading transformational change. You can’t manage transformation, you must lead transformation.

Here are some other key differences between management and leadership:

  1. The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  2. The manager is a copy; the leader is an original
  3. The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people
  4. The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust
  5. The manager has a short-term view, the leader has a long-range perspective
  6. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why
  7. The manager has his or her eye on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon
  8. The manager imitates; the leader originates
  9. The manager  accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it
  10. The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his own person
  11. the manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

In the classical Taylorian world of work, there were many managers and few leaders and the difference between the two was easy to make. A team leader on the production line didn’t need to give too much time or thought to what he had to do or how he had to manage the people producing the parts on the production line. His job was to follow orders, organize the work, assign the right people to the tasks, coordinate the results and ensure the job done done. In other words, he focused on being efficient.

In our new, crisis-driven, knowledge based economy, where value creation depends on the knowledge people have and how they mobilize that knowledge, contributors are no longer simple cogs in a machine. In such  a world, management and leadership are not so easily separated. Individual contributors look to their managers not just to assign them a task but to give them a purpose. To get the best out of their people, managers must not only maximize efficiency but develop skills, talent and inspire results. Managers must not only seek to do things right but seek to do the right things right and this can only be achieved if knowledge workers are empowered, have a sense of ownership for their job and can contribute to decisions in an appropriate way.

As Peter Drucker explains so clearly in his book “The effective executive“, the advent of the knowledge worker means that you no longer “manage” people. Your job is to “lead” people. Your job is not to squeeze people like lemons until they can produce no more but to make them more productive and effective so that they continue to grow in their jobs, learn new skills and knowledge and continuously adapt to their changing environment.

Transforming an organization is an enormous challenge because it means:

  • innovating and creating new ways of doing things and working together
  • building the road as you go and supporting people to follow you on the journey
  • trusting your people because trust generates commitment and loyalty
  • building a long term perspective, looking to the horizon and ensuring followers key their eye on the horizon
  • Being constantly able to explain what and why because meaning is key to motivation
  • Building from scratch which is always harder than doing things as they have always been done
  • Challenging the status quo and rocking the boat
  • Moving from requiring simple execution to inviting contribution and commitment
  • Delegating effectively because you can’t control everything, you can’t manage everything and you need others to take responsibility
  • Team work horizontally and vertically
  • Negotiating win-win
  • Less rules, more self-regulation
  • Lead by example and walk the talk
  • Taking risk and accepting failure
  • Developing a no-blame culture

You cannot achieve all of these by simply managing people and requiring them simply to execute. To get all of these, your management model has also to transform itself.

As Albert Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem using the logic that caused the problem in the first place and many of the problems blocking effective organizational change today such as poor commitment by employees, lack of skills, lack of responsibility, disengagement, organizational inertia, poor team work, etc. are caused by a failure to realize that the management model continues to be  “management-centric” when it should be “leadership-centric“.

To summarize, it may be  a platitude to say so but if you want to transform your organization, you must first transform your managers and help them move from “managing people” to “managing and leading” people and that if they will continue to manage, they must above all become leaders.

When you do this, you will have your transformation champions capable of leading transformation effectively in your organization.

Some leadership quotes

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