From A Good Manager to a Great Leader

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By David Barrett

David Barrett photoForbes.com recently reported that more than 10,000 US-based baby boomers are retiring every day. Based on a 10-per-cent rule, this would suggest that the number in Canada is about 1000 retirees every day. This report goes on to say, “A recent survey predicted a 30% drop in the number of appropriately aged managers available for leadership roles between 2009 and 2015. To make matters worse, professionals considered emerging leaders account for only 8-10% of the current talent pool.”

The signals are clear. The opportunities abound for today’s managers to become tomorrow’s leaders. There is a shortage of supply and abundance of demand coming down the line.

Today’s managers who want to become tomorrow’s leaders should be thinking strategically now about where they want to be and more importantly, how to get there.

For those who aspire to transition from a good manager to a great leader, there is a tool out there that can help you. Your ‘Professional Strategic Plan’ can become your guide to the road ahead.

Like any strategic plan, this living document contains three elements:

  1. An in-depth analysis of who and what you are today: your strengths and weaknesses, your skills, knowledge, connections and more.
  2. A vision of the future. What you want to be, where you want to be, who you want to be with and, most importantly, in what time frame.
  3. The road map from #1 to #2. What steps do we need to take now? What action items should we diarize for the future? With whom do we need to connect? What education do we need?

Your Professional Strategic Plan should be carefully thought out and well documented, and – the most critical element of all – it should be revisited at least annually. Every good plan needs to be revisited on a regular basis and adjusted as required.

Our plan helps us identify where we are today and what we need to be doing to move to the next level. So what are some of the areas that we might identify as “requires addressing?” Here are five areas that future leaders might see in their list of gaps.

  1. Learn How to Think Like a Leader. The mindset of today’s leaders is completely different than that of our managers. Instead of the micro issues of the day, our minds turn to the enterprise. Call it the CxO language: strategic planning and, as important, strategic plan execution: getting the work done; understanding all aspects of the business; corporate governance; shareholder equity; return on investment and more. One of the hardest transitions from management to leadership is this ability to get out of the weeds and think, act and talk strategically.
  1. Communicate Like Leader. Leaders need to be able to present well to audiences of all sizes: from the board of directors to an auditorium of shareholders; from a town hall meeting of employees to a small gathering of potential clients. Leaders need to be able to write well in all forms including email, reports and letters. And leaders need to be able to listen well. Direct listening, giving people the time they deserve, and indirect listening: hearing the chatter all around.
  1. Know Your Leadership Style. There are a number of different leadership styles out there. Leaders need to understand where they fit in that range. They need to appreciate where their styles fit well and, as importantly, do not fit well. The day is gone when we believe our leaders are God’s gift to everything. The best of our leaders understand their weaknesses and have people around them to support them. Knowing your style and recognizing situations and environments where you may need that support is critical in today’s corporate environment. Some will argue the great leaders are able to change their style to adjust to the environment of the day. Others will suggest that your leadership style is embedded in your DNA and this “change-up” is not possible. That there even is this debate highlights the fact that changing your leadership style as required is not easy.
  1. Learn How To Sell. All leaders are salespeople. They need to be able to influence team members, sell new ideas to customers, convince stakeholders and inspire employees. They need to waive the corporate flag seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is the part of the job that many leaders find uncomfortable but necessary.
  1. Think Big Picture. That seismic shift from the specialist to generalist, tactician to strategist, warrior to diplomat and supporting cast member to leading role. This is the hardest move of all.

How do we get there?  How do we fill these gaps?

Education. Formal or informal education is critical to any aspiring leader. Whether it be a three or five day course on leadership, a two day seminar on communication skills, an online course on strategic planning or a professional coach helping you deal with a multigenerational workforce, it all counts towards rounding out your leadership attributes, skills and knowledge.

Experience. Finding every opportunity available to lead larger teams, more mission-critical projects or getting involved in new and innovative ideas. Our future leaders will be identified early on by their initiatives and enthusiasm to grow as professionals.

Finding Role Models. Look for people around us who are great presenters, good corporate ambassadors or strategic thinkers and model them, follow them and/or observe them.

Build Relationships. Why start in three years?  Look for key individuals who can guide you, coach you or just talk with you every once in a while about your career. There is no better time than today.

Forbes.com tells us, and many others are sending the signals, that the bulk of today’s leaders are heading out the door and we don’t have enough people to replace them. The doors are about to open for us and we need to be ready to jump in. Now is the time to get ready.

Do you have a Professional Strategic Plan?

David Barrett is the founder and National Program Director for the Centres of Excellence in Project Management and Business Analysis at the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He is also a professional speaker specializing in project leadership, corporate leadership and strategy execution. He is the author of four books, a weekly blogger and the author of The Weekly One Minute Video Series. David was the founder and managing director of ProjectWorld Canada, Business Analyst and Project Summit USA and the founder and executive editor of ProjectTimes.com and BATimes.com. He can be found at www.SolutionsNetwork.com.

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