The best managers are the best leaders

What do managers do all day? Put their feet up on the desk and think deep thoughts? Spend the day keeping track of everything their subordinates do? Make broad policy decisions and command whatever resources are needed? Surely, life must get less complicated as the manager moves up the pyramid.  

Ask any upper level manager and you're likely to get a long, low chuckle. Most of them will quickly tell you that these widely held notions are myths. Well, then, what does a good manager do that makes him or her a successful leader?  

The best leaders I know have certain personal characteristics in common:  

They have the ability to focus attention on the vision for the future.

They are single-minded about the direction they wish to chart. In staff meetings, speeches, work assignments, the theme is the same. There is no doubt in anyone's mind what the goal is and what values support it. This framework helps his or her direct reports make their own decisions, since they can evaluate each situation against the goal. If quality customer service is the vision, for example, then it becomes a criterion in the decision-making process for everyone in their organization.  

They have patience and a sense of timing.

They have the ability to assess the power structure of the organization and determine-on any given proposal-who will support it, block it and all areas in between. No matter how sorely they want to push an idea through, they will seldom challenge when a corridor is blocked, preferring to wait for it to open up. These leaders are able to move the organization toward the goals they've set by finding opportunities as situations arise. They watch the trial balloons of others and put their finger to the wind, always looking for an opening. They recognize the futility of trying to push total packages or programs through the organization, if it isn’t ready. They are willing to take less than total acceptance in order to achieve modest progress toward their goals.  

They have a talent for keeping themselves informed about a wide range of operating decisions.

As they move up, their network expands across many departments. When necessary, they will bypass the formal lines of authority to get the "whole story" about a situation. Their subordinates know they must keep them well-informed about decisions they make. These leaders know that if they isolate themselves from operations, their decisions will be based on limited knowledge.  

They avoid meddling in their subordinates’ work.

Because they are well informed, they can help guide and position their employees' ideas or projects, but they avoid telling them how to their work. They don't make-or unmake-their subordinates' decisions. Rather, they are alert to potential problems or opportunities. Their primary functions are to open doors, support and influence decisions, play devil's advocate and act as chief questioner and strategist.

They coach by simultaneously challenging and supporting their subordinates.

In your own career, you probably can recall a boss who supported you but seldom challenged you to the limits of your capabilities. Or, you may have had a manager who provided you with more challenge than you could handle, yet was never around when you needed him or her. Leaders who can do both are likely to have high performing employees who aren't stagnating or burning out.  

They can build commitment.

They know how to energize the organization at all levels, to create and exploit change. They know that employees who are involved in the decisions that affect their work are more committed to their work. They encourage participative meetings and welcome any creative idea. They praise people who identify problems as much as those who bring good news. They know that continual change is necessary to discover new combinations of opportunities.  

An organization is doomed to mediocrity unless it is guided by good general managers in key positions. No matter how rich its other resources, an organization will not excel unless it is led by what are becoming increasingly rare individuals...superior leaders.  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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