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How Managers Become Leaders

Updated on August 20, 2012
Guildhall in London - Leadership from a bygone era
Guildhall in London - Leadership from a bygone era

I have written in hubpages in the past about the difference between managers and leaders, but recently I came across a HBR article on some research into how managers become leaders and how that they can start this journey.

Michael D Watkins (HBR June 2012) says that there are 7 seismic shifts in transforming a manager into a leader. They are:

  1. Specialist to Generalist – moving from a specialist role eg , sales, accounting, IT into a general role to manage people and processes that may include the key skill set, but have elements of other roles
  2. Analyst to Integrator – using knowledge from cross functional experience to help solve complex organisational problems
  3. Tactician to Strategist – see the larger picture and the forces at play to influence decisions
  4. Bricklayer to Architect – the ability to understand and design organisational systems that fit into the strategy, structure, operating models and skill base of the business to make change
  5. Problem Solver to Agenda Setter – define the problems a company should focus on and spot issues
  6. Warrior to Diplomat – proactively shape the environment in which the business operates
  7. Supporting Cast Member to Lead Role – exhibit the right behaviours as a role model for the organisation and learn to communicate and inspire large groups of people

My Journey

A few years ago my manager and I had a chat about my career. I was showing behaviour that pigeonholed me as a good manager, but I was lacking some key leadership traits, especially traits that are required for a top leader in the organisation.

A part of this discussion was to think proactively in three areas:

  1. Undertake a MBA so that I could broaden my understanding of other parts of the business and learn skills to take me from a good manager to a good leader
  2. Modify my behaviour through coaching and mentoring to take the wider strategic view for the organisation rather than a silo approach
  3. Work on a number of projects to enable cross functional activity and also demonstrate that I can manage peers

Tips for Emerging Leaders

Watkins gives a play book in his article of how to develop emerging leaders so that they can reach their potential and input into the success of the organisation. He recommends:

  • Early in careers give potential leaders the opportunity to participate in cross functional activity, give them an international assignment and expose them to a range of broad business situations – start up, accelerated growth, sustaining success, realignment, turnaround and shutdown
  • When their leadership promise becomes evident give them experience with key stakeholders, an assignment as Chief of Staff for an experienced enterprise leader and get them to lead an acquisition or restructuring
  • Just before their first major promotion send rising stars to an executive program (eg MBA) that will help them to understand more about organisational design, business process improvement and transition management while also building external networks
  • When giving them their first major promotion give them units or departments that are small, distinct and thriving which are staffed with experienced and an assertive team that they can learn from

When I reflect on my career thus far I can see that I have been giving the experience of working cross functionally, been exposed to various business situations, had experience with key stakeholders, headed up some new business activity, undertook a MBA and have taken on more responsibility. This activity will continue to groom me or others in similar situations for the next role in the organisation.


In the final paragraph of the article Watkins says:

“…the seven shifts involve switching from left-brain analytical thinking to right-brain conceptual mind-sets.”

This is the biggest challenge for emerging leaders, to go from left-brain thinking to right-brain and to develop the requisite emotional intelligence skills to become a top leader in an organisation.

Good luck on your journey towards becoming a leader. Cheers Michael


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    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      You are right Mellonyy, a true leader is a servant can check out some of my other hubs around servant leadership as well. Thanks for your comment. Cheers Michael

    • Mellonyy profile image

      Mellonyy 5 years ago

      Great hub, congratulations! I think the most important difference is that, the leader inspires trust and focuses on people, in contrast to the manager. Voted up and shared!

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks jpcmc & Dennis for your kind comments. Influence is a key trait of a leader especially around influencing to move the organisation towards the strategic intent. Cheers Michael

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks Michael Watkins for stopping by to read my review. Thank you so much!! I found your article inspiring and it helped to put my experience into perspective. Cheers Michael

    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 5 years ago

      great hub. You made some great points.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I saw the HBR article and it was really something. It pays to know how to make to shift to actually do it.

      Maxwell preaches leadership as influence and we can only be effective if we know how to influence properly at different levels.

    • profile image

      Michael Watkins 5 years ago

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article Michael. All the best.

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Interesting Man from Australia more MBAs are promoted and generally earn more! I did study with quite a few people that only wanted a degree and they didn't learn a thing. Maybe MBA schools need to be more selective in who they admit instead of chasing the dollar. Cheers Michael

    • Man from Modesto profile image

      Man from Modesto 5 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      This is a great article. You could probably flesh this out a little and sell it to a journal.

      Note on MBA's: a lot of research now shows that an MBA is actually a counter-indicator of productivity (bad for the employer). It is also neutral in predicting the status and income of the holder- except MBA's, on average, are a year older than those they work alongside. (Net loss: one year for employees).