Do Less, Lead More: How To Go From Manager To Leader

Do Less, Lead More: How To Go From Manager To Leader

This article is for managers, or people who want to be in management.

When I start coaching a manager, I ask them what a really good manager does. They inevitably tell me that good managers put out fires, answer questions, and remove obstacles that get in their employees way. “WRONG!” I tell them. Great coaching huh?

Good managers provide clarity, strategy, and accountability to their employees. Ineffective managers put out fires, give answers, and remove obstacles. Ouch.

Most managers never make the transition to upper level leadership positions. Their careers stall out before they make the executive suite. The most common reason why capable, talented managers get stuck in lower and middle management is that they are doers, not leaders.

At the beginning of our careers we add value by doing stuff. If we’re in sales, we sell. If we’re in engineering we design and build things.

When we get promoted to our first management role, we don’t stop doing. We just add our new management and reporting duties on top of all the stuff we were already doing. For example, most sales managers spend the majority of their time still meeting with clients and helping their reps close deals. Because they were good at doing the actual sales work, they think they still have to do it in order to add value and gain the respect of their team.

The problem is that most people are promoted to their first management role, not because they are a great leader, but because they are a great doer; e.g. the top sales rep gets promoted to sales manager.

So the management role is a reward for doing their previous job well. When the new manager starts leading their team for the first time they have no idea how to lead, but they’re great at doing the frontline work, so that’s where they focus their time. For the most part, they ignore the leadership components of their new job (providing clarity, strategy, and accountability to their team) because they don’t even know what those are. After all, their managers never did that stuff either.

This behavior follows people their entire careers. I have coached 25 year veteran managers in global corporations who still spend the majority of their hours diving in and doing the work instead of driving clarity, strategy, and accountability.

The result of all this doing is that you feel burnt out, stressed out, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Within six months of starting to work with Forging Leaders, the majority of clients are astounded by how much free time they have. I’ve worked with managers who were so used to running from one thing to the next that they were genuinely confused as to how they should spend the two free hours they’ve created each day.

Over the years, I have helped many doer managers turn into leaders.

Here are some of the common characteristics of managers who are stuck in the “doing” mindset versus those liberated individuals who’ve shifted to a “leading” mindset:

Doers attend way too many meetings every week. They attend meetings they don’t have to be in just so they can stay in the loop. They think that attending meetings is just something managers do.

Leaders understand that too many meetings are not only unproductive, but actually toxic. Meetings take up time that you could spend developing and leading your people. Leaders only attend meetings that they absolutely must attend. They delegate or delete every possible meeting from their calendars to create productive time.

Doers have all the answers. They are hounded all day long by their employees who need answers. Doers think they are adding value by giving out answers and it makes them feel important. It makes them feel needed.

Leaders don’t give many answers, they ask questions. They trust their people to make their own decisions and come up with their own answers. Empowerment! Leaders understand that if people are coming to them for answers it is wasting both of their time. Leaders make sure that their team has the proper resources so they can find the answers to their questions themselves. Because of this, their employees are self-sufficient and have learned how to help themselves instead of constantly having to run to their manager for assistance.

Doers put out fires. They actually wear this as a badge of honor. They think they are being productive by putting out fires and removing obstacles.

Leaders teach their employees how to put out their own fires. Just like finding their own answers, learning how to solve their own problems empowers the employees.

Doers prevent failure and discomfort. They see failure as a bad thing so they swoop in to save the day if one of their employees is struggling. Doers think it’s their responsibility to protect their employees from conflict or discomfort. “Just have your upset customer call me” they tell their employee.

Leaders understand that failure leads to learning and ultimate success. They know that it’s not their job to protect their team from failure and discomfort, actually it’s the opposite. It’s their job to lead their employees right to the edge of their comfort zones and then encourage them to step over. Leaders create a culture where failure is not something to be feared but something to examine and learn from.

Doers create a team of doers who all struggle with these same issues if they promote to manager.

Leaders create a team of leaders who all understand what great leadership looks like and how to do it themselves. They are equipped to go on to successful careers leading people.

If you are a manager, or you have management aspirations, this is a wake up call. The skills that make a great manager/leader are not the same skills that you’ve learned as a great doer.

Here are the most vital leadership skills:

If you gain even a medium level proficiency with these skills, you will be in the top 1% of leaders.

Engaging people and gaining their buy-in for your ideas and your priorities
Motivating and inspiring
Strategic planning
Running remarkable group meetings
Public speaking
Running remarkable one-on-one meetings
Goal setting, for you and for others
Critical thinking
Lateral thinking
Strategic decision making
Holding yourself and others accountable
Managing up
Delegating
Saying no
Overcoming fear

(We’ll be covering these skills over the next few weeks, make sure you signup for our email list to get these updates)

Remarkable leadership is a lifelong pursuit. Don’t be intimidated by this list or by the path ahead. It’s totally worth it, and you can do it. The success and fulfillment you will experience as a devoted practitioner of intentional leadership will be some of the greatest moments and memories of your life.

If you aren’t sure where to start, you’ve already come to the right place. There are dozens of article on our site on exactly these topics. Start by reading what we’ve written. If you want the additional mentorship and support, contact us. This is what we do. We help ordinary people like us become remarkable leaders.

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