Making the Big Shift: How Managers Become Leaders

Recent research published in the June 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review has uncovered seven seismic shifts required for managers to become leaders. According to Michael Watkins (well known for his book The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels), effective leaders need to transform from:

  • Specialist to generalist understand the mental models, tools and terms used in key business functions and develop templates for evaluating the leaders of those functions
  • Analyst to integrator integrate the collective knowledge of cross functional teams and make appropriate trade-offs to solve complex organisational issues
  • Tactician to strategist shift fluidly between the details and the larger picture, perceive important patterns in complex environments and anticipate and influence the reactions of key external players
  • Bricklayer to architect understand how to analyse and design organisational systems so that strategy, structure, operating models, and skill bases fit together effectively and efficiently and harness this understanding to make needed organisational changes
  • Problem solver to agenda setter define the problems the organisation should focus on and spot issues that don’t fall neatly into one function but are still important
  • Warrior to diplomat proactively shape the environment in which business operates by influencing key external constituencies including the government, NGOs, media and investors
  • Support cast member to lead role exhibit the right behaviours as a role model for the organisation and learn to communicate with and inspire large groups of people both directly and, increasingly, indirectly

Not making these shifts can be detrimental to a leaders performance and result in a focus on the wrong things while not paying attention to other critical activities.

In our experience, many leaders do not grasp these changes and cling to the skills that got them to the leadership position in the first place, ie. being a problem solver or specialist, which, in some cases, can lead to derailment.

So, although counterintuitive, giving up the safety of these trusted attributes is critical. Leadership development programs and activities can (and should) facilitate this by providing a safe space for managers to confront this challenge as well as cultivate and try out new behaviours.  The neutral zone, which people go through during transition, can be very anxiety provoking. During this stage, managers require a lot of support from their superiors who have already made this transition and can guide them well.

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