Why you should aspire to be a Leader – not a Manager

Having the privilege of employing a whole heap of young, bright and ambitious people, the same question crops up again and again, ‘How do I become a manager?’. I recently did a speaking engagement at one of Auckland’s top law firms and asked the people in attendance ‘what their career aspiration’ was. By show of hands, an overwhelming 99% of the room said they wanted to be a manager within 5 years of their career (I think the other 1% were being coy or potentially smart arses). The overwhelming desire to ‘be a manager’ didn’t surprise me, but it made me feel as if we’re not giving young people enough coaching to prepare them for the workforce or other career avenues.

For some reason, many people feel as if the only, and most logical, career path must lead to a management role. This really shouldn’t be the case because the reality is that many people are simply not suited for, or don’t enjoy, being a manager. While management is one of many rewarding avenues, it means that you primarily focus your time on helping other people grow. That’s right – making them better people (and if you’re doing it right, yourself at the same time). Also, suddenly the success of your role is measured by the success of your team. This can be a particularly hard pill to swallow. A good example of when it can go wrong is when an outstanding sales person steps into the role as sales manager. Suddenly, your success is measured not off your sales but those of your team – from the low to the high performers. And the truth is, just because you’re good at sales, that doesn’t mean that you will be a good sales manager.

So, depending on where you’re at in your career, being a manager might not be the right career path for you; as you might still be better off growing your skillset.

So where should you start? Well, think of yourself as a business and ensure you’re adding the skillsets (your IP) required to excel in your life (not just your role). What are the key competencies you need, and what life skills are you missing?

At the end of the day, if you do want to become a manager, the journey to becoming a good manager starts with becoming a great leader. Simply put, you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. Admiral Murray Hopper said it best, “You manage things; you lead people”.

So, what career milestones should eager and ambitious team members set their eyes on to demonstrate that they are becoming a leader? I’ve detailed my top 10 tips below:

  1. Always be solutions focusedLeaders think and talk about solutions; followers think and talk about problems (Brian Tracy)
  2. Do what’s right – You need to have an unwavering commitment to doing what’s right for the customer, the team and the business. The best leaders employ people who are better than them to ensure the right outcomes for their customers and the business
  3. Be accountable – Never shift blame. Take responsibility and own the problem
  4. It’s OK to be new – Learn how to consult, don’t be an island
  5. Be authentic – Say what you mean (and mean what you say!)
  6. Learn to listen – Often what’s unsaid is just as important as what is said
  7. Be direct and consistent – As well as firm but fair
  8. Make promises you can keep – Under promise, over deliver
  9. Value transparency & governance – This is the cornerstone of any good business and a key leadership quality
  10. Share your fears and expectations – …By doing so you are acknowledging issues and making yourself, alongside other accountable for resolving them