by Andrea Charman

The transition from manager to leader

People often find themselves in leadership roles without having thought about what this means and what they need to do to succeed. People usually enter a profession or job area because they want to do things related to the subject, whether it’s law, medicine, charity work, IT or carpentry. So, how do managers become leaders? This has proved a significant problem area for many British organisations.

Management versus talent

A century of management discipline has tried to apply logical and rational structures to the organisation, which is seen more as a mechanism than as an organism. These management disciplines have attempted to contain and perhaps even control the unknowable and the unpredictable. While all well and good in many areas – the development of sophisticated planning techniques, financial accounting methods and the availability of information – these management disciplines have an unforeseen result in checking the source of creativity and innovation.

Corporations, like the parents of wayward children, have a habit of breaking the will of their more unruly recruits. They deal best with obedient children and mould them into outstanding managers.

John Viney

Many large corporations, therefore, have lost the ability to both spot and capture the unusual, the novel and the maverick. As a result, a huge amount of the talent and originality resident in a corporation fails to add value or contribute to productive performance. This has a huge negative impact on the organisation’s ability to change... and change is vital in today’s business environment.

The challenge

As a result of their success in ‘doing things’, managers get promoted. This involves managing a range of processes. As the scope of the remit increases, more people become involved; the result is that management is not enough, and the newly promoted manager needs to lead people. A management role therefore involves three areas: doing things, managing processes and leading people.

The challenge is that people in management situations have seldom had any leadership development. Many have not reached an acceptable comfort level around building relationships and dealing with people issues. Still more feel this is time consuming and takes them away from doing things and demonstrating the value they bring to the business or organisation. But building relationships and dealing with people is indeed a crucial part of the job and offers the greatest potential for performance improvement, for value creation and for building satisfying and meaningful collaborative relationships.

Key point

The result of managers who lack people skills is ineffectiveness, lack of teamwork, conflict, dissatisfaction, disaffection and loss of morale; all of these ultimately lead to loss of value and performance failure.

The learning?

Organisations exist to turn resources into something of value, whether it’s turning steel and other substances into cars, or public money via taxes and levies into safe and clean environments, or charitable donations into medical research or better life experiences for certain communities. The more effective the process management is, the better the organisational performance will be.

But when it becomes not just a matter of managing the process efficiently, but getting the whole team to do so, to understand and believe in the end goal and to feel engaged, then leadership skills come into play. Senior managers therefore need both skill sets. It is people who manage processes, so managers who foster environments in which people feel an emotional connection to the performance goals achieve superior results and, at the same time, reach a superior level of self and collective validation. In fact, they lead. They encourage performance rather than policing it.

The lesson for would-be leaders is clear. Success is very much about connecting the emotions of the staff you lead with your organisational processes and the results that are required. It means there is the opportunity to influence the satisfaction and validation that your staff and other stakeholders gain from a key part of their lives – their working lives!


Consider this example: two managers, both wishing to take a consultative approach to their roles, have an open door policy and have taken time to foster a consultative approach to problem-solving in their teams. One tells his/her staff what to do when approached with a problem for co-consultation; the second discusses the problem and helps his/her staff to decide what course of action is preferable.

After three months in post, the first manager is complaining that his/her staff cannot be trusted to do the work; they fail to take responsibility for issues, so as a least resort he/she has to take on what should be their work. What has actually happened is that the staff feel unsure and disempowered; as a result, they push everything upwards. In the case of the second manager, staff feel confident and supported, even when things go wrong. The manager is leading and there is a satisfying sense of working together.