Leadership lessons – What leaders and managers actually do? ·
We have been talking lately a lot about leadership skills and abilities. I think it is time to spend a little time on what leaders and managers actually do in their work, so we have a bit of a clearer target to start aiming at as we develop our leadership and management skills and character.
Below follows a short and simplified recap of the main differences between ICs and two different levels of leaders. If you plan on advancing on your career, make sure you know what you are aiming at and what will change when you step up a level or two. If you have aspirations to move up, you should start to pay attention and start working (at least partially) on higher-level issues already. Once you actually move up a step, you will need to drop most of your old work and redefine your role and tasks in line with the requirements of the management position.
The first step from an IC to a manager is often the hardest, as you have to let go of many of your old skills and the work you are used to doing to focus on a completely different set of skills and issues. If you can’t let go of your past and you are unable to keep your hands off the work that should belong to your team, you will be heading for trouble in your new management career. If you constantly rob your team of chances to grow through the challenges and even failures they encounter, you will be building a team that relies on your skills to bail them out of every challenging situation that they should be able to handle by themselves. You will not only become a bottleneck for the tricky tasks, but you will also end up missing most of the real leadership work that you should be doing, as you will still be working as an IC rather than a leader. This risk is especially present if you rise to a management position by being the most experienced team member of the team that you are now leading.
Transformation comes easier when you understand and accept that the work of leading is as real as the tasks that you were doing before as an IC, and you don’t have to prove your right to lead by being the most skilled expert. The only thing you have to prove is that you can actually lead and take it seriously now that you are in a position to do it. When you read the list below, you should realise that there is enough real work in leading, and you can lay off your previous tasks in good conscience.
Individual contributor (IC) responsibilities
- Focuses on doing his work and delivering the results of his own work.
- Uses existing tools and processes.
- Deepens his own skill set by getting better at the work that he is doing, and aims to become an expert in his area of expertise.
- Follows the company culture and values.
Team leader/manager responsibilities
- Focuses on the results of the team and how they relate to business outcomes.
- Improves tools and processes.
- Focuses on improving the team’s skills and performance.
- Takes care of his team’s motivation and work engagement.
- Optimises to create better results with less effort/money.
- Supports the individual team members in all work- and career-related issues and challenges, and gives personal feedback and advice.
- Sets high-level priorities and goals for the team.
- Keeps the team accountable, and measures progress towards goals.
- Executes the strategies set by upper management and acts as a link between the team and them.
- Delegates work and avoids becoming a bottleneck.
- Widens his own skill set to all the required leadership, management, and business skills.
- Communicates and lives the company culture and values.
- Doesn’t try to compete with the experts in terms of skill levels and depth of knowledge but is willing to train and hire experts that are better than him for work-related issues.
- Doesn’t try to do the work that should be done by team members, even though he might be able to do it.
Business leader responsibilities
- Focuses on the business outcomes of the company (or his department/business unit)
- Focuses on the future of the company and creates visions and strategies.
- Is responsible for profit and loss of the organisation that he leads and manages budgeting, forecasting, and reporting.
- Drives organisation-wide optimisation and improvement programs as part of the strategy.
- Leads and builds the company culture and values.
- Delegates responsibility and empowers people to lead efficiently on the lower levels.
- Keeps other leaders accountable and measures progress towards reaching high-level company goals.
- Often represents the company to the customers and outside world.
- Doesn’t work with the detail levels of products, services, project planning etc. Has trusted leaders and managers to take care of that.
- Doesn’t step over the team leaders and managers and assign work directly to their teams.
So, there it is, the very rough outline of what leaders and managers do in their work. If you are interested in pursuing this career path and all the good things it can provide you, I suggest you take a look at my freshly published book, “7 Principles of Becoming a Leader” at Amazon. It is written with one single goal in mind: To show you everything you need to become a leader and start building your management career.