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#14: Do You Know the Real Difference Between Managers and Leaders?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, March 26, 2009
Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009
I have been asked by my client to coach senior staff to prepare them for leadership roles. I declined because I don't have coaching training but it got me to thinking about whether you can coach a manager into a leader. How would you know who might be ready for leadership?

There has been a lot of research conducted about what makes up managers and leaders. Some of the more interesting findings reveal that the strongest differences are in the conceptions a person holds, more so than the technical or analytical skills. The manager embraces process, mediation and accommodation, attachment to groups, stability, execution, and resolving problems quickly. The leader embraces ideas, attachment to individuals, tolerates ambiguity, sets new directions, is willing to let problems become clear before driving to a solution, and has passion. These are the results of work by researchers like Abraham Zelesnik, who recognizes that leaders can be found throughout an organization, not just at the top. This is why organizations are drastically rethinking "leadership development" programs aimed at identifying "promising" managers and grooming them for the executive suite. The issue is more complex than can be addressed here but an important point is that leaders can't be made if their natural inclinations are not there.

A second finding is that the nature of what a leader does is also changing. It used to be that a leader had authority and provided direction. Organizations have changed so that leaders may be found throughout the organization. There are some who recognize Level 4 and 5 leadership traits in junior people, even without the authority normally associated with such leadership levels. Add in emotional intelligence as a prerequisite to leadership effectiveness and you begin to understand why leadership development curricula developed a decade ago are potentially dangerous when applied to today's organizations.

Tip: The conclusion is that the nature of leadership and how it is expressed throughout organizations has become quite complex. Unless you are experienced in personnel assessment, trained specifically in leadership coaching, and are keeping up with recent research, it is unwise to assume that because you are a consultant that you can "do" leadership coaching. Recusing yourself from such a request is not only ethical but also helpful to the client if you convey the importance of getting leadership right.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  coaching  consultant role  ethics  roles and responsibilities 

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