Why Transforming Managers into Leaders Shouldn't Be Left to Chance

Guest Post: Simon Rakosi, co-founder, Butterfly

A common convention of fairy tales is for ordinary characters to make extraordinary transformations, acquiring impressive powers and competencies—sometimes overnight. I know what you’re thinking: if only developing talent were so easy.

For HR teams, nurturing and developing leadership talent isn’t merely a competitive advantage: it’s life or death in hypercompetitive industries and markets. Yet too often we expect these types of soft skills will be obtained magically, through osmosis perhaps, similar to what takes place in our favorite fairy tales.

Much has been written about leadership training—why it’s important and why we too often wait far too long to train our managers—but what about the crucial metamorphosis that occurs when a manager becomes a leader?

It’s on HR teams to recognize the differences between a manager and a leader, and identify the transformations that are required in the development of an effective leader. Here are a few key distinctions:

Managers educate around skills and tasks; leaders inspire around a vision.

When an employee first becomes a manager, their role is frequently described as an opportunity to scale their skills or talents across multiple people. While a good manager will figure out how to achieve this, a true leader understands his or her role in communicating the broader team and company vision to each employee so that they understand their place in the bigger picture. This encourages individual contributors to be more proactive when it comes to ideas that will move the needle for the broader team and business.

At our startup, we bring this concept to life through regular town halls in which we transparently articulate our vision to all levels of the organization, from co-founders like myself to interns. We also encourage employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time collaborating on teams and projects outside of their “regular” jobs, so that they may gain important access into the broader blueprint of the company.

Managers view their employees in silos; leaders focus on team dynamics.

One of the early steps a new manager will take is to schedule and host one-on-one meetings with employees. Of course the goal of any effective manager is to monitor the productivity and growth of each of his or her team members—but when it comes to becoming a leader, managers should also be able to view their team’s progress and dynamics as a unit.

This is where soft skill development can really come into play. Studies have shown that EQ is a greater indicator of leadership success than IQ, yet few organizations invest in training around empathy. One reason could be that empathy is a difficult skill to grasp, and it’s not so easily “coached,” yet just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Providing simple training exercises around active listening can go a long way, for example.

Managers delegate tasks; leaders develop people.

This is important. One mistake new managers can make is to view their increased responsibilities through the lens of a delegator instead of an educator. Delegation is critical to scaling talents, as we’ve gone over in the first point, but truly the most important capacity of a leader is people development.

Unfortunately, while managing projects and assigning tasks is quite intuitive, understanding how to read, educate and inspire employees to grow is a much more nuanced ask. Companies can help new managers on this journey by showing them how to collaborate with team members on their personal career plans and providing guidance when it comes to the cadence and format of their progress updates and goal-setting.

Managers listen; leaders listen and act.

Finally, a true leader will not only collect employee ideas and feedback on a regular basis, but he or she will also find ways to act on that data. It’s not enough to demonstrate to employees that you are listening. Making the move from manager to leader means identifying and escalating employee feedback quickly, and helping initiate real change based on those insights. In other words, showing your team you’re listening is much more powerful than telling them you are.

Here’s an example from one of our partners at Butterfly. Using our employee intelligence and management coaching software, a junior employee at a large ecommerce entertainment company proactively suggested a company-wide bus program to help employees get to work more efficiently. Recognizing this feedback as not only warranted, but also quite astute, the manager helped push the idea up the chain of command. Just weeks later, the office instituted a bus program for all of its employees.

During a time when job automation is not an “if,” but rather a widely accepted “when,” HR teams face an important challenge when it comes to helping managers grow into leaders.

The impact of a strong leader has the potential to scale tremendously–and this transformation can (and should) take place at all levels. As such, HR teams should invest more in leadership coaching to managers of all levels, not just executives.

Questions about Butterfly or management coaching in general? I would love to continue the conversation. Please reach out to simon@butterfly.ai.