The shift from manager to leader isn’t an easy one. It is the most massive leap any executive will make in an organization.
Before drilling deep into the “Big Leap,” let’s unpack the distinction between leader and manager.
The word manager means “to bring about, to control, to plan, to direct, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, and to conduct.” This definition alone offers hints to the magnitude of the gap an executive faces.
Contrast that against the definition of being a leader, which means “influencing, empowering, guiding in direction, course, action, and opinion.” Do you hear the nuance which when unraveled alters the very fabric of who you are from a doing thinking entity to a creative, inspiring force?
You see leadership is the highest calling in an organization as you accept responsibility not merely for your career, your company’s future, but that of every individual under your care. This attitude repositioning is not insignificant. It requires a metamorphosis in behavior, action, and thought process.
I liken this transformation to that of a caterpillar (manager) turning into a butterfly (leader). You see caterpillars spend a great deal of their early life grounded, consuming large quantities of leaves, while they bulk up gathering mass for the conversion soon to take place (analogous to managers ingesting wide-ranging knowledge about the business). At some point in a caterpillar’s gestation period, they hunker down, hang upside-down, and spin themselves into a cocoon. This stage provides the caterpillar with time to effectively transform into a butterfly all set to wing its way higher and faster than they’ve previously traveled.
It is my belief the failure of many leaders is they’ve mistakenly skipped this radical and crucial reinvention stage in their rise to the top.
For a moment, consider a caterpillar, who didn’t wholly remain patient throughout the conversion process (manager promoted before transformed). Picture a fat caterpillar body with short, stubby wings attempting to become a creature of the sky. What do you believe will take place? You bet. A half-formed thing madly flapping stunted wings striving to stay aloft only to smash into the ground in short order! Why? That caterpillar, with promise, didn’t develop enough for 100 percent of the vital rebirth to take place.
Yet against the backdrop of all of this, somehow in today’s business culture, many executives believe promotion from a management role into a leadership one is a slam-dunk, natural progression. Those on the pathway to leadership misguidedly seem to work from the principle: If I work hard enough, tick-off the appropriate positional boxes, know the right people and experience a bit of luck along the way, it is a simple step into leadership.
None of these efforts, although helpful in becoming a high-potential executive, align with an environment for leadership metamorphosis to transpire.
If you’ve chosen the pathway to leadership, you’re obliged, in the quiet of your mind, to persistently challenge, redefine and enlarge how you relate to the world and who you be. It requires self-awareness as you actively pursue conduits for self-development. It means letting go of what previously won you promotions and recognition to become a neophyte learner in areas of responsibility you never owned formerly. And if by any chance you’re comfortable, you’re in all likelihood still tightly holding on to parts of your old management mindset that earned you acclaim. It’s a telltale sign you’re operating from an obsolete system in a new atmosphere something which won’t bode well for your long-term success as a leader.