Move up from good manager to great leader

Are you a manager or a leader?

This Tuesday’s session of Microsoft Canada and the Canadian Information Procession Society’s (CIPS) Ignite Your Career Webcast Series, focused on How to Become a Great Leader.

The panel of manager/leaders from a diverse group of companies provided insights on what they have done individually to develop their own leadership qualities. The four agreed though that although there may be a gulf of difference between managers and leaders, obtaining the right combination of both skills would be a definite asset for any individual or organization.

“Managers generally tend to be given the task of maintaining the company status quo making – making sure that things are done and done right. They tend to be defined by their role or position,” says Greg Lane, director of business development for public service at IT consulting firm Avanade and current chair of CIPS.

But in running most organizations, skills in both areas are often indispensable.

As founding partner and principal consultant of corporate tech training company ObjectSharp Consulting in Toronto, Barry Gervin admits he often needs to be both leader and manager.

“I need to a lot more visionary and do a good job at selling that vision to others. But I also need to be a manager to figure out the ways to get to that vision,” he explains. Here are some of the panel’s suggestions for developing leadership skills:

Leaders lead – Stuart Crawford, vice president for business development at Bulletproof InfoTech, a Microsoft small business partner serving SMBs in Calgary and Dana Epp, security software architect at authentication specialist Scorpion Software Corp., , both served in military and love to use martial analogies.

“Leaders need to know the full battle plan for the whole strategic campaign. Managers are the tacticians – they’re the platoon leaders and section leaders that carryout the orders,” said Epp.

Know your team – Before going into battle a good leader is always aware of his army’s strengths and weaknesses, according to Crawford.

At BulletProof for example, all employees are regularly tested for their skills and inclinations, said Crawford.

Knowing which team member would benefit from additional training, coaching or encouragement even in a field where they previously had no experience also plays an important part.

BulletProof uses the book Strength Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath as a guide in finding people’s strong suit.

“A great leader knows which peg to put in the right hole and how much that peg needs to be push down the hole,” said Crawford. But strengths and skills are different from behaviours, according to Gervin of ObjectSharp. “This doesn’t mean that only people who posses skills for a certain task are given that task though. It’s important that you don’t pigeon-hole people for their skills,” he cautioned.

Build trust – Employees need the assurance that their leader knows what he is doing and that his decisions take into account their well being. This degree of trust, Crawford said, will help ensure that “things get done and the same preferred results are achieved whether or not the leader is present.”

“People need to be assured that you are who you say you are,” said Epp. You have to instill confidence that you can do your task as well.

Lane believes that above all a leader should be ethical. “If you aspire for trust, you have to behave ethically to inspire that behaviour. You need to lead by example.” “It’s also about building a good relationship with your people and obtaining their respect,” said Lane of Avanade.

“But remember, not all respected leaders seem that way,” he said. For instance, he said, Winston Churchill was shunned by colleagues and the public until his leadership was sought as England faced attack by Nazi force in World War II.

Instill openness – Employees need to know can always approach you and talk to you even if their views differ from your, said Epp.

An important part of this quality, he said, is the ability to admit one’s own mistakes, accept challenges and new ideas.

Embrace diversity – The globalization of business poses diverse challenges for many leaders as they strive to marshal disperse operations into moving towards a cohesive direction.

Leaders need to be mindful and respectful of differences in culture and work practices of employees and learn to use these to the organization’s advantage.

“For many developers in California, work is always go-go-go, in Canada, many people remain tied to the 9 to 5 grind and in Europe, they simply need to have their 30-day break or they won’t work,” said Epp.

“You need to be aware of communication cues. Out in the West, people ask questions for a good reason, but tend to be quiet if they have nothing to say,” says Crawford of Calgary-based BulletProof.

Invest in your growth – “Don’t take on the whole world. To motivate you need to learn to delegate,” says ObjectSharp principal, Gervin.

He said a good leader takes time to acquire new skills, keep up to date with industry developments as well as the world in general, to continue being a well-rounded person.

To gain some understanding of what type of leader you are, Lane of Avanade suggest reading the book Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats: The Dreams, Relaties and Illusions of Leadership by Patricia Pitcher.

“Good is the opposite of great. One of the most enduring qualities of a great leader is their ability to rally people around a cause,” says Lane.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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