Finding Leaders instead of Promoting Managers

How does your company decide who is going to be promoted to a ‘Management’ role?  Do they pick the people that are really good at ‘doing the work’ and then send them on a Management Training course?  Does that work?  Isn’t this what was described in “The Peter Principle”, back in 1969 by  Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull?  That was meant to be humorous, not advice on how to run your business!

So, what can you do instead?  I’d start by identifying the natural leaders in your business.  Observe the people that work for you; who are the networkers, who do people go to when they have a problem to solve?  Those individuals might be a starting point for identifying the potential leaders.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

If you recall, I explicitly separate leadership and management.  Your business still needs managers, to manage processes, projects, budgets etc., but you need leaders to lead the people.  If you put ‘managers’ in positions of leadership, then they may well treat your people as if they were simply entities such as projects or products.

Once you have identified the natural leaders, talk to them, coach them, identify their strengths and weaknesses and put them into positions where they can use their strengths.  Did you think that I was going to suggest that you work on improving their areas of weakness?  That might be something that you would consider, but think carefully:  if the weakness is likely to result in them not being good leaders, then they’re probably not the right person.

I’d recommend one of my favourite books on this subject: “First break all the rules”, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.  What this book explains, is why we should look to use the strengths of each person in our companies to best effect.  It is important that both the individuals and their managers to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest enough to own up to their weaknesses.

If you’re looking to improve the engagement of your employees, talk to them about their strengths and weaknesses.  What will you achieve by doing this?  By using each individual and their strengths, you can expect to see more engagement resulting from each person being allowed to do what they’re good at, and enjoy doing.  Is there a downside?  Yes, but only if you have a key objective to meet which isn’t a strength of any one individual in your team.  But that aside, you’ve already increased engagement by focussing on their strengths!

What are my weaknesses?  I suppose that I could share one with you:  I get easily distracted when I’m trying to do something that doesn’t really interest me.  I’m writing this blog right now, rather than doing what I really should be doing!

What could you do instead of relating performance and pay?

I guess that before I give you more of my thoughts on this, you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve.  If by relating performance to pay, you are trying to motivate your people to work harder, then you should first understand whether they’re driven by money!  If they are, and you can really measure their performance, then stop reading this post and carry on as you are!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Still reading?  Good!  What I’m about to say may be a little controversial, but bear with me.  Improving the performance of all of the individuals in your company might not improve the performance of the company!  You can have everyone working as hard and as they possibly could, using whatever means you can think of.  Unless they’re working together, all pulling in the right direction, then they may as well not bother.  Putting it that way, may make more sense to you.  W. Edwards Deming wrote in “Out of the Crisis” ‘A new book explains how to “Motivate your people to work at top speed!”  Beat horses and they will run faster – for a while.”  This book was first published in 1982, so it is still a surprise to me to still see performance and reward being used to “improve company performance”.

Instead of focussing on the performance of the people, I encourage you to look at what it is they actually do.  This might be uncomfortable for both you and them to start with, but if you can manage to convince them that you’re looking at what they do, to be able to see how you can help them to make their job easier or less frustrating, then you’ve taken the first step on the business improvement ladder.  More about that will appear in another post.

Back to the relationship between performance and reward.  If you already link performance to pay rises and bonus payments, you need to make some changes as soon as you can.  If your company pays bonuses based on performance, find a way of relating them to the performance of the company; larger organisations could split this down to the performance of business units, but this also has risks.  Whatever you do, make sure that the performance measures are seen to be fair.  The biggest risk is that business units may compete against each other, rather than working together for the good of the business.  Keep it simple, focus on the bottom line; the best-case-scenario is that everyone in the business receives the same bonus, either in percentage terms, or in monetary value.

What to do about the performance of individuals?  Use your Leaders to lead!  Train the leaders at all levels in the business to understand what leadership is, and how it differs from management. Give them the time to coach their teams.  Get the teams working together.  Creating the right environment, from the front-line to the boardroom, with the right leaders in place is the only way forward.

I’ll leave you with this thought.  If you take the time to look at the processes that operate in your business, and listen to the people involved in those processes, then you’re heading in the right direction to move your business forward.

Go on, take the first step!

Inspired by a fellow blogger

I’m sure that many of you have already heard of Kevin Burns ( and if you haven’t go and have a look at his blog, I’m sure that you’ll find his weekly videos interesting!  Kevin’s videos talk a lot about the role of managers, but the more of them that you see, the more that you’ll come to realise that he’s not talking about managers, but he is talking about leaders and leadership.

A few weeks ago, he spoke about managers being visible, being actively involved in the activities of the teams that they manage.  He came up with a phrase which struck a chord with me:  we’re managers not ‘meetingers’.   The last word made me stop and think about what I’ve been doing personally for the last few weeks.  Have I made time to be with my team, or have I been a meetinger.  With great sadness, I have to report that I’ve been heading towards being a meetinger!

What can I do?

The answer is simple, or it sounds simple enough!  For each meeting that was in my calendar in the week following the ‘meetinger’ revelation, I asked myself two questions:

  • What will I contribute to the meeting?
  • What would happen if I didn’t attend the meeting?
The answer to these questions, particularly the last one helped me to free up more than 50% of my time that week.  If I was asked to attend a meeting where I was merely going to be supplied with information, I sought alternative ways to obtain the information: much of it was available electronically as PowerPoint files or minutes!  I can read!!

What did I do with the newly-found time?  I spent it with my team, understanding the challenges that they face, and helping them by removing some of the simple barriers for their activities that week.

…and next week?

Next week, I’ll be doing the same again!

Meetings culture

The organisation that I work for knows that the number of meetings that it holds is a problem, yet it still faces the challenge that individuals ‘like to be seen’ in meetings; it is their opportunity to raise their profile.  What this results in is the reduction in capability of such an organisation to deliver.  The staff are too busy with meetings to find time to carry out their actions that they agree to in meetings!  A vicious circle that needs to be broken.  Time for some Leadership!

There are simple steps that can be taken to break out of this pattern, but the leaders have to lead, particularly in the meetings that need to take place.  One of the most obvious causes of unproductive meetings is a lack of purpose or lack of focus.  There’s nothing worse than a meeting that is poorly chaired.

I’ll leave you with a simple suggestion about holding better meetings:

As a leader, try having an independent chair or facilitator in your next meeting.  That will provide more structure to the meeting, and allow you to contribute as a participant, rather than chair, secretary and participant!

Confusing management with leadership

I am not someone who is motivated by grand job titles, so it confused me somewhat when a part of a company that I worked for changed the job title of some of its supervisors from “Team Leader” to “Team Manager”.  I suspected that the decision was made by someone who thought that being a “Manager” sounded more important than being a “Leader”.  I can already find myself disagreeing with this point-of-view.  At that point in my career, I don’t think I understood the difference as I do now, but one of the Senior Leaders in the part of the business that I worked in didn’t follow the trend.

What is a Manager?

There are numerous ways in which you can describe the role of a manager.  Managers carry out things like

  • performance management
  • work allocation
  • reward decision-making
  • hiring and firing
  • delivery of the corporate messages

Although this is not a comprehensive list of duties, what you will see is a list of activities that impact their staff.  The manager in such a situation is expected to be the vehicle through which the company interacts with its staff.

What is a Leader?

This might be a more difficult question to answer, but here’s a few ideas about what leaders might do:

  • coach others to achieve their best performance
  • be an expert, can lead from the workplace
  • can share workload, ensuring that everyone plays to their strengths
  • can interpret corporate messages, delivering meaning

You might think that I’m suggesting that managers can’t be leaders, by choosing different styles of words for the two categories, and maybe I am!

The real differences between leaders and managers

What really separates leaders from managers is simple:

Managers have to push their staff into delivering whereas people will follow leaders and deliver more!

A simple statement may start you thinking about how you are working today.  Are you a leader or a manager?  I’m sure there are merits in both camps, but I have worked for people managers as well as leaders, and I have a strong preference for leaders.  If I think back over my career, I see only a few leaders who got the best out of me; these people created space and opportunities for me to grow as a person, as well as to be able to deliver value to the business.

If you’re an aspiring leader, feel free to comment on this post!

Coaching – some personal reflections

I managed to go to Trent Bridge over the weekend to watch Nottinghamshire Outlaws play Somerset Sabres in a 40 over cricket competition.  I saw Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset captain, running all over the field, having a quiet word with his players between deliveries and between overs.  As I was sitting there, I started to compare this to the pitchside “coaching” that is given during the weekend’s football matches.  I know that the two sports are different, but the players in both sports are all human beings.

What would it be like if a football coach came to coach your team at work?

I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be acceptable for the coach at work to shout across the office directing their frustration and anger at your team.  I can only imagine one outcome of “coaching” in that style having one impact: low morale, high staff turnover.

Outside of work, I am lucky enough to coach youth rugby and cricket, and have been trained by both the RFU and ECB in how to coach.  I’ve also participated in work-related coaching education, and both types focus on the same thing; observation.  I was never coached to shout from the touchline or boundary!

I do see this behaviour from the touchline, and it never seems to have a positive impact!

The good coach watches and listens!

In the work-related coaching sessions, I’ve been shown several different frameworks for coaching, some goal-based, some based on changing behaviours.  Whatever the case, there’s always one common theme around listening.  Listening with your ears and with your eyes.  I won’t repeat some attempted statistical assessment of the impact of body-language, vs the words that you hear, just suffice to say that, as a coach, you need to look as well as listening.  As an aside, it is just as important to take note of paralinguistic cues, as well as the words that are used.

As a sports coach, my training takes on more of the observational angle.  Watch the players carefully, to make sure that the technical parts of their game are right.  As a cricket coach, I remember being coached to be a coach.  Rather than classroom style teaching, we were encouraged to explore what our role should be in a very interactive setting.  We had all of the technical information on video and in books, and we could learn that ourselves, but what really mattered was how we coached!

Coaching at work

So, if the coach at work can’t behave like a Premier League manager on the touchline on a Saturday afternoon, what should they do?

In general, if you’re coaching someone to achieve something that they want to do, you should not try to solve their problem for them:

  • Help them to understand where they want to get to – Ask questions about their target
  • Help them to understand how close to their target they are right now – It is good to understand whether the target is realistic, or whether setting themselves milestones is a good strategy
  • Help them to explore the possible routes to their target – there’s more than one way to “skin a cat”!
  • Help them to commit themselves on a path to reach their target – how are they going to keep on track?

What you’ll note in all of these steps, is that the coach is there to help, not to do!

The coach is there to listen, to reflect and to ask the questions that might help you to understand yourself better; you will have to commit to your goal, and then you have to do the work too!