Secrets of High – Influence Leaders–Secret # 1: Management is not Leadership

As an executive coach, consultant and former senior executive, I’ve had many opportunities to see effective – and ineffective – leaders up close.

Over and over again, I’ve seen smart, talented professionals plateau or flat out fail when promoted into senior executive positions.

This is because the skills that got them to the top of their field and into management are not the skills required to be an effective leader.

I’ve discovered the secrets that turn smart, talented professionals into high-influence leaders. I’ll be sharing them with you in a series of articles on Secrets of High-Influence Leaders.

Today, I’ll tell you about the first secret.  This one might seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many executives get tripped up on this important distinction.

Secret #1: Management is not Leadership

Both are important to high-influence leadership, but are radically different.

Management focuses on resources, structures, staffing, operations, performance metrics, etc. It is about making the most of what you have.

Leadership is about influencing others, inspiring others, and fostering innovation. These Three I’s of Leadership are fundamentally about setting direction and change.

Leaders who master all three become high-influence leaders.

Most of my coaching clients are already at the top of their field and good managers. But they fall short because they lack the knowledge and skills of high-influence leadership. Let me give you an example.

The Brilliant Scientist

Like most of my clients, Jane (not her real name) was extremely talented in her field. As a microbiologist, she soon made her mark at a global pharmaceutical company by introducing a new sequencing approach that made a dramatic difference in patients’ lives.

Jane was rewarded with a series of promotions, where she excelled as a manager who brought in projects on time and on budget. Her detailed project plans mapped each task, which allowed her to protect her people’s time from external requests.

On cross-functional task forces, Jane could be relied upon to structure tasks, set deadlines, and ensure deliverables stayed on path.

As a result, Jane developed a well-deserved reputation as someone who got things done. But she was also seen as rigid, somewhat difficult to engage, and uninspired.

Learning to Lead

Jane’s world was turned upside down when her company announced its acquisition of a rival pharmaceutical company.  The newly acquired company was a market leader in  therapeutic areas that complemented her company’s. But there was an overlap in Jane’s area, and at first it was unclear if Jane would be chosen to lead the newly merged group.

Jane was excited when she was selected to head the group, but she immediately faced two challenges:

1. Staff from the acquired company approached  work in  a much less structured, but more creative, way than Jane was used to.

2. Jane had to interact with new colleagues outside her group who were unfamiliar to her.

Jane’s first request of her staff was that they complete project management sheets and track their time – a strategy Jane had long relied on as a scientist and manager to achieve success. But it was a radical departure from the ways staff from the acquired company worked, and resulted in a strong negative reaction from them that soon  reverberated up to her new manager.

Although Jane’s request made good sense as a manager, it was the wrong first move to make as the leader of a newly merged group with different approaches to work.

Soon after this, I started coaching Jane and began to guide her in the Three I’s of Leadership.

The Three “I”s of Leadership

1. Influence: The measure of a leader’s success is their influence on others. Jane and I did a stakeholder analysis by identifying the key people and groups she needed to influence. Then we prioritized them and developed a communication plan to proactively reach out to each one.

2. Inspiration: Inspired followers achieve more. Jane jumped into her new role by thinking like a manager, but not like a leader. I coached Jane to create an inspiring vision for her new group by asking, “What can we do together that we could not do apart?”  I also recommended that she outline her aspirations for developing her staff and truly impacting the treatment of patients.

3. Innovation: Rarely are new leaders brought on to keep things just as they are. Jane’s group needed to discover new approaches that combined the best of both companies. Taking my advice, Jane set up a series of innovation challenges and idea exchanges that fostered new avenues for approaching the work.

By following the Three I’s of Leadership, Jane shifted her focus from being a manager to being a leader. Soon, she received a much more positive response from her stakeholders. In fact, her group eventually was held up as one of the best examples of successful integration after the merger.

Now that you understand the difference between management and leadership, I’ll share Secret # 2:  Understanding the Motivations of Achievement and Influence in my next posting.