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The terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ are often used interchangeably, yet they’re very different. 

At Birkman, we believe effective management is about preparing your team to handle the issues they have in front of them today. Leadership on the other hand, is preparing them to tackle the issues they don’t know about yet. 

Focusing on leadership development enables businesses to step up and be better–it will improve their bottom line, attract and retain top talent, and navigate change more successfully. According to ResearchGate, participants who underwent leadership training improved their learning capacity by 25% and their performance by 20%. In a study by the Harvard Business Review, researchers found that companies with inspirational leaders outperformed their competitors by a significant margin. 

To make sure you’re ready to face the challenges of today and tomorrow, organizations need individuals who can combine the two: great managers with leadership qualities.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.


The Managerial Mindset

Management is focused on planning, building, and directing organizational systems to accomplish short-term tasks and goals. 

Effective managers are typically skilled at overseeing duties and delegating to others, keeping their team focused and on track. However, this transactional approach means they pay little attention to situations beyond the present moment and remain emotionally uninvolved with their team members. This lack of personal connection with colleagues can result in mistrust, hampering productivity, collaboration, and employee engagement. 


The Leadership Mindset

Leadership is centered on a vision to guide change by establishing direction, aligning people, and inspiring individuals. Leaders have a futuristic mindset, thinking strategically for the long term, capitalizing on opportunities, and establishing a purpose for the rest of the organization. They focus on their people, strive for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, and are unafraid to challenge established norms.

Let’s take a look at a practical example of leadership in action. 

Your software company has grown rapidly, and you are about to announce a new solution to your product line. While it’s an exciting time, there’s a lot to be done before the product launch, so it’ll mean longer hours and a lot of hard work from your employees. It’s times like these that a leadership mindset comes to the fore. 

Leaders keep the most important asset of their organization–their people–at the top of mind. They know how important it is to keep their employees energized and enthusiastic about helping them get to the next level–in this case, the launch of their new software solution.

While management is crucial, a leader leads through shared goals and an inspiring vision. Such a vision inspires and aligns teams, encouraging employees to willingly go along for the ride, as opposed to digging their heels in the sand.

For your managers to excel, it’s critical that they recognize the need for leadership development and that you actively invest in it. Here are our three tips for making the transition from manager to leader. 


Tip 1: Understand Your Team Members

At their core, a good leader knows their team members inside and out. They see each individual’s strengths, motivators, and needs. 

It’s important to understand that each individual brings a certain something to your team. It’s these unique contributions that make your team stronger. As a leader, it’s up to you to help employees identify and lean into their strengths for the common good. 

Once you know the driving force behind your people, it’s easy to keep them inspired and motivated by aligning their strengths with their roles and ensuring that their interests are included along the way to recharge their batteries. 

Suppose you’ve haphazardly dished out responsibilities while planning your product launch. In that case, it’s going to be impossible to get your employees excited if they’ve been assigned a role that doesn’t align with their skills. Giving Jane the task of creating clever copywriting slogans when she’s more of a number-cruncher means she’s going to struggle with motivation. It’s a surefire way of causing unnecessary frustration and dissatisfaction at work.

Knowing your people also means understanding how they want to be communicated to. Whether you’re coaching a team member, offering casual advice, or giving formal feedback, saying the right thing at the right time in the right way will keep them at their most productive and engaged selves. 

Telling it “like it is” to someone who prefers a more sensitive approach or unexpectedly cornering a colleague in the middle of their coffee break to inform them about the extra-long hours they’ll soon be working won’t get the best results. Being mindful of your words, tone, and timing sets the stage for a far more constructive exchange. 


Tip 2: Make Work a Safe Space to Be

To encourage better team cohesion and efficiency, effective leaders actively invest in their people's development and growth. Empower the individuals on your team by delegating and providing a psychologically safe environment. The workplace becomes a safe space where members are engaged and confident enough to take risks, be honest and vulnerable with each other, and speak up with their ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. 

Your product launch might be just a few weeks away, but if your developers are worried there’s not enough time to work out the bugs in your software before you go live, you need to act in a way that encourages the entire team to express these concerns. This requires vulnerability and openness on your part (a skill you’ll need to intentionally develop). After all, they could be right, and your timelines might need adjusting. 


Tip 3: Effectively Manage Stress Levels 

Change and conflict are an inevitable part of everyday life. When project plans change or differing perspectives clash, teams must adapt. Sticking to what’s comfortable, or “avoiding the elephant in the room,” means stagnation or business decline. 

When times are tough, it’s important for you to help your people navigate the bumpy road ahead. This is achieved by being aware of their stress trigger, and the unproductive behaviors that can ripple out as a reaction to stress. It involves helping your team members dissect the stressful situation they find themselves in, supporting them to understand their unique needs, and working with them to identify ways to communicate and reset themselves. 

If postponing your launch is the best idea, the person in your team who is easily stressed by last-minute changes will benefit from you communicating early and often about any changes that do occur. Brandon, on the sales team, prefers you to be open and upfront rather than beating around the bush. You can tell him, “It’s possible our product launch will be delayed if we can’t fix the bugs in our software. I wanted to give you a heads-up as soon as possible because I know the impact it’ll have on the hard work you’re putting into sales.” Then, work together with them on a revised sales strategy and how best to update your clients.

Equip your people to better fight stress by giving them a clear purpose to follow, defining roles and responsibilities, and creating a culture of trust. Instead of viewing conflict or disruption as negative, redefine it as an opportunity for growth and development. In this way, those moments of discomfort on your path ahead will be just that, as opposed to potholes that threaten to completely derail your team's health and well-being. 


Help Your Managers Transition to Leaders

The good news is that organizations can unleash the leadership potential of their managers at any time through the right development and training. This includes mentorship programs (take a look at how we helped a major fashion retailer), specialized training to build relevant soft skills, workshops for high-potential employees and managers, and continuous learning through honest feedback and evaluation.

A valuable first step is helping your managers become more aware of their own unique behaviors, personal style, and the approaches of others so they can intentionally leverage everyone’s diverse styles. 

Birkman’s personalized insights will help your people do better work and build more efficient, high-performing teams around them. Connect with us today for an effective leadership development program tailored to your specific needs. 

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