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We need more leaders, not managers

Another day and yet another person in tears recounting how their newly appointed manager is micro-managing them to within an inch of their sanity. For every organisation that invests in its leaders to ensure that they develop the requisite skills to help support and bring out the best in themselves and their teams, there appear to be countless other organisations who base their decision to promote someone primarily on their technical abilities, with little or no concern for their ability to lead the team that will be entrusted to them.

Having navigated our way through a global pandemic and understood the importance that relationships play in delivering great outcomes and bolstering team dynamics and resilience, it seems that too many organisations continue to promote people into positions for which they do not have the necessary leadership skills. This dearth of leadership acuity is causing untold psychological damage on those who are forced to report into them - people should not be brought to tears by someone they report into. This leadership vacuum, resulting in toxic managerial behaviours, is also undermining the overall success of those teams and, ultimately, of those organisations.

When organisations promote someone based primarily on their technical ability, they risk undermining the performance and wellbeing of everyone else around them. They also risk creating more managers rather than leaders. To be clear, organisations do not need more managers, they need more leaders. They need people to inspire and empower those around them to greatness; people who can find the potential in people, and have the courage to develop that potential.

As human beings, we are infinitely capable. Yet, when someone deprives us of our basic psychological needs such as our sense of autonomy, we become a shell of our former selves. When people in positions of responsibility do not effectively delegate that responsibility, but instead attempt to delegate discreet tasks, they disempower those around them from thinking and engaging for themselves, which can cause untold psychological distress. Meanwhile, those same managers will no doubt be asking themselves why the person they are [micro]managing is underperforming or proving difficult to [micro]manage. Promoting managers rather than leaders does no one any favours.

In contrast, when we upskill people who are responsible for others to become leaders rather than managers, great things start to happen. They learn that the quality of the relationships that they foster with their team is fundamental to the overall success of the team. They understand that to bring out the best in others, they need to give them space to grow and think for themselves. They appreciate that the role of a leader is not to direct others’ actions but to set a direction for others to take action towards. They learn to differentiate between their need to feel in control and the toxicity of attempting to control others.

Research suggests that the highest preforming teams result from a collective sense of psychological safety and empathy born out of a deep sense of respect for one another. When we deprive another human being of the ability to think for themselves, we inadvertently lower the collective IQ of the entire team, not just one person. Studies have consistently found that the best teams are not reliant on having the smartest person or people on the team. Respect and empathy are far better predictors of overall team success, than technical ability. Invariably, it’s our ability to work and think together as equals that brings out the best in each and every one of us.

How does your organisation select and support those who are responsible for leading others? Are you promoting managers or and you empowering leaders?

If you are looking for the best in class leadership development programme, you should speak to us about our Courageous Leadership programme.


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