Focus on leading, not just managing

Being an effective manager is a critical attribute, but promoting to leadership based on just this skill is a mistake, says Ken Jacobs.

In three decades in and around public relations, I’ve seen our industry, particularly on the agency side, promote professionals into positions of leadership simply because they’re great managers: of accounts, of timetables, of budgets, and, of course, clients.

While being an effective manager is a critical attribute, I believe promoting to leadership based on just this skill is a mistake.

Managers manage processes, but leaders lead people. And while most leaders are good managers, many managers aren’t great leaders — yet. We must work harder to develop them as leaders, via training, coaching, and mentoring while they are still managers, or we’re not setting them up to succeed.

In my view, those you’re promoting to positions of leadership must be strong in these ten areas. Some may even need help in many of these:

Trust: Great leaders are trusted by their followers. If not, they won’t be followed. And that trust isn’t granted just because a manager has been promoted to leader. It must be earned. And one of the best ways to start earning that trust is to signal to one’s team that one trusts them.

Motivation: Solid leaders know not only how to motivate team members, but recognize that individuals are quite different in what motivates them, and are both willing and able to create different motivational approaches for each of their team members.

Able to articulate a vision: While we recognize that company and agency CEOs and presidents must articulate an organizational vision, leaders and leaders-in-training must create and share a vision for their account, group, department, or division. It’s when staffers see how their own vision aligns with their leaders’ that one starts to develop true followership, loyalty, and effectiveness.

Perceptive listening: One of the hallmarks of a great leader is the ability to truly listen, not only to what a team member is saying, but what they’re signaling via the non-verbals. Being engaged and present is a critical skill, even more so now when there are so many technological distractions that take us away when we should be fully in the moment.

Bravery: PR has never been a career for the faint-of-heart. This was certainly proven during the last economic downturn, and it’s still true today. Brave leaders at every level are indeed magnetic, attracting followers who believe the leader can help them navigate rough seas. Remember, staffers seek confidence, but are incredibly gifted in sniffing out fear.

Can’t wait to delegate: One of the toughest challenges managers face as they transition to leadership is letting go and allowing others to take over their former responsibilities. But talented leaders inherently know, or learn, that one of the best ways to build loyal, motivated followers is to master this two-step dance.

Number one, let go, and then communicate to the staffer to whom they’re delegating the responsibility that they’re doing so because they’re confident the team member can do the job as well or possibly even better than the leader did. And because the staffer’s "BS meter" will be on high in such situations, the leader must mean it!

Curious about what’s next: Managers are dedicated to flawless execution of what we’re doing now, and that’s critical for any organization. True leaders are interested in what’s next — for our industry, for our clients, for communications, and for business. And that passion for what’s coming around the corner can start quite early in one’s career. So be on the lookout for those in your organization who display it.

Inspiration: One of the hardest to define, yet critical qualities for leaders to have is the ability to inspire followers, to get them to believe in themselves and their capacity to overcome difficult challenges, and to get their followers to do things they didn’t realize they could do.

Selflessness: Many of the most successful leaders, both in our industry and outside of it, believe that their job is to serve their followers, not the other way around. Call it leader as servant, call it humility, call it what you will: Leaders who demonstrate this quality attract followers who would follow them off the proverbial cliff.

Love leading: The most effective leaders are those who, despite its many challenges, love the idea of leading others, of bringing out the best in them, of encouraging their followers to believe in themselves, and in leading them through the tough times. Take a manager who doesn’t feel this way, promote them into a position of leadership, and will you really be surprised when the "leader" crashes and burns?

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting.

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