How Can I Turn Managers into Leaders?

Are management and leadership the same concepts? It's a common question for HR professionals and employers who are looking to turn managers into leaders, furthermore, they want supervisors to exemplify all of the behaviors and characteristics of authentic leaders. 

This has been an ongoing discussion since 1977 when Abraham Zaleznik, a scholar and educator at Harvard Business School, penned an opinion piece that described leadership and management as separate functions. He expanded on the idea in his 1989 book The Managerial Mystique: Restoring Leadership in Business, writing he believed that managers are interested in organizational process and maintain a low level of emotional involvement in relationships with people, while leaders are creative and more concerned with ideas and relating with people in an empathetic way.   

The Difference Between Managers and Leaders 

Zaleznik sparked a decades-long discussion, and not everyone agreed there is a difference between leading vs. managing. But the reality is his concepts anticipated today’s organizational needs. Employees want to be treated holistically and not as mere assets generating profit. The implication is each manager must learn leadership skills, meaning you must turn managers into leaders to develop the most effective leadership that satisfies the needs of employees. 

The 2021 Global Leadership Forecast survey found that only 11 percent of the organization have a “strong” or “very strong” leadership bench. The reason is companies are not providing leadership development and training for people transitioning into leadership positions. They call them “managers” but fail to give them the training and resources they need to succeed. To succeed today, managers need to be leaders.  

Managing Vs. Leading

There are significant differences between leading vs. managing. Managers compel people to do as they are told. Leaders are coaches who connect with employees, develop respect, and exhibit emotional intelligence. Managers focus on organizing and planning, and overseeing daily operations. Leaders are focused on motivating and inspiring employees, coaching them to develop and utilize their competencies for self-success. 

There are significant differences between #leading vs. #managing. Managers compel people to do as they are told, while leaders are coaches who connect with teams. #managers #leaders #leadershiptraining

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It’s important to realize that both manager and leader skills are working for operational success. It’s also important to realize both sets of skills are needed – management and leadership. Sometimes, a person must manage, direct tasks, and give directives. Sometimes, a person must lead, using a high level of emotional intelligence to build positive employee relationships. The challenge is getting employee tasks completed accurately and efficiently while building relationships based on trust at the same time.   

turn managers into leaders

How do you turn managers into leaders?  

Each person in a position of overseeing the work of others needs to find a balance between manager and leader. The difference between managers and leaders is important, but it doesn’t mean a person should be one or the other.  

For example, a manager’s team meets a deadline, but the team members don’t believe the manager cares about them as people. Consequently, the team members frequently complain about the manager, which leads to the manager’s inability to get promoted or earn a bonus. The team members are disengaged, which inevitably translates into lower productivity and higher turnover. 

In another example, a new hire has difficulty getting the work completed. The manager finds it easy to speak in anger towards the person, making her feel terrible about her effort and her abilities. The leader chooses to spend the time to pinpoint the problem, provides additional training, and encourages the employee.   

Healthy Balance of Leading vs. Managing 

To develop a healthy balance of task and people skills, the manager must learn leadership skills and then know how to blend each set of skills. Turning managers into leaders requires a person to develop key leadership skills. Following are some of the desired skills. 

  • Motivation – Able to motivate employees to do their best work, innovate, express creativity, and assume decision-making about their work 
  • Communication – Can communicate in various ways, from directing work to coaching employees, always maintaining a healthy balance. 
  • Showing appreciation: Shows appreciation and gives recognition to employees for their efforts. 
  • Creativity – Can develop and realize innovative ideas through shared goals and shared values with employees. 
  • Feedback – Gives employees effective feedback that inspires but also encourages employees to give feedback in return, meaning employees are given a voice and encouraged to engage in honest communications. 
  • Teamwork – Collaborates with the team, helping them find ways to problem solve and ensuring the team is inclusive.  

Leaders also develop skills in balancing resources and engaging people in resource utilization. They ensure employees have the right resources to do their best work, including opportunities to learn and develop skills. Leaders respond to an employee’s failure to do a good job by determining the best approach to help the employee through advice and customized training, rather than getting upset. Leaders also take a holistic approach meaning employees never feel like the proverbial cog in a profit-making machine. Employees are always treated as humans.

Filling the Emotional Bank Account with Deposits 

Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of the well-known book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, introduced the concept of the Emotional Bank Account (EBA). When discussing the difference between managers and leaders, the Emotional Bank Account comes into play. 

The Emotional Bank Account refers to making positive emotion-based deposits versus withdrawals for the purpose of building relationships. A supervisor or manager who makes more deposits than withdrawals is in coaching mode. Deposits are not automatic. The leader creates a series of deposits by developing trusting relationships with employees, strengthening employee engagement, and always showing good will, sincerity, and caring towards employees. The goal is to always maintain a positive balance in the EBA. A leadership coaching act makes a deposit, whereas a withdrawal is made by a manager demeaning an employee or playing favorites. 

“In order to achieve tasks,” explains Senior Consultant at IRI Consultants, Marcey Uday-Riley, “you have to meet the emotional needs of employees. The Resignation Nation is a circumstance that indicates business leaders haven’t made enough deposits in the Emotional Bank Account. The leader commands the employee to do something or gives unwanted advice, and the employee doesn’t trust the leader enough. The emotional withdrawals exceed the deposits, so the employee leaves for another job.”  

In a tight labor market, it’s much easier for an employee to find another job and a coaching leader. Why stay in a situation where there is a lack of trust between the employee and their leaders when someone can walk out and easily find another job? 

managers vs. leaders

Process to Turn Managers into Leaders 

So, the question remains: how do you turn managers into leaders? It requires targeted training to develop the manager’s leadership skills. It’s not always easy because it’s natural for managers to give directions instead of advice, especially if goals and deadlines are consistently met. However, the type of questions to ask address whether lack of leadership skills is harming employee engagement and suppressing critical, innovative thinking or putting the organization on the path to unionization.

How do you turn #managers into #leaders? It requires targeted #training to develop the manager’s #leadershipskills.

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The IRI LEAD Academy helps managers understand the difference between leading vs. managing and offers specialized training to develop and empower leadership skills. It consists of 22 half-day modules in specific content areas designed for maximum engagement. You can choose virtual or in-person sessions. The sessions include a skilled facilitator and engage your leaders with role-play scenarios and a variety of resources that include job aids, videos, self-assessments, and coaching guides to create a memorable learning experience.  

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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