How-To Turnaround Your Career

From Business Manager to Business Leader

I was recently asked to provide my thoughts on the differences between a business manager and a business leader. I responded by sharing my beliefs that business leader is defined by their diligence and determination to achieve an organization’s goals or mission, in great part by supporting the business leaders within their organizations. Add in softer qualities of grace, grit, humor, humility, and gladness, and you have the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives, as well as lead a business. A business manager, in contrast, is a colleague who is on the ground floor of accomplishing the tasks, teams, and projects that make the missions possible.

As a CEO and mentor to many, my goal is to help transform managers into leaders. In my opinion, a business manager evolves into a leader by demonstrating the ability to see the future and creating a vision for the next frontier in which the business or organization will need to operate. One of the hardest transitions to make is to anticipate the highest level performance required of each function. Leaders start by outlining the definition of the future market, create a landscape document which maps out the product launches of direct and indirect competitors, build a five-year plan based on the requirements to compete (big deliverables, business categories, budgets) and then strategically implement that vision.

A true leader also learns to identify a team that complements what they do and clearly recognizes their own limitations. This is why you will see consumer product goods companies swing between CEOs who are marketing visionaries and then replaced by the CFO. Companies require the discipline of the CFO and the vision of the marketing/sales guru. Leaders quickly understand that they are rarely both and design their leadership team to balance the fine line that drives sustainable growth.

I, myself, have always worked with and for manufacturing CEOs—high tech, auto industry, and CPG. These leaders were raised with hallmarks of strong manufacturing processes and bring those skills to the design of their business. Personally, I see these as great leaders because they focus on driving output while decreasing costs on an annual basis.

The leaders I follow, I do so, first and foremost, because of the respect they command. There are other reasons why someone might choose someone as a mentor. First, there is an expectation that a leader must combine the ability to drive the business with a commitment to the greater good. Second, employees want a leader who is loyal. Everyone wants to feel confident that if you run up the hill with someone that they will acknowledge your effort and reward it. Also, young people, in particular, expect a commitment to diversity of thought, gender, experience, and race. They appreciate leaders who are respectful and recognize the need to mentor and support a diverse population of rising leaders. And, employees recognize when someone knows how to run a business very well. The bottom line is they are your employer, and you will only benefit from the employment if you receive a paycheck and benefits that support and meets your financial aspirations. We can appreciate the softer elements of leadership, yet secure employment and predictability are critical to employees and their families.

Here are the steps that I recommend a manager should take to become a true leader to a team and a mentor to others.

  1. Check your ego at the door and remember that you are a custodian acting on behalf of an institution. You are only a temporary player in the long game, so focus on what you can do to help your organization move to the next level.
  2. Admit when you don’t know something and seek guidance from colleagues and peers. Your team doesn’t benefit if you swirl and twirl in indecisiveness because you don’t know the answer or don’t have the needed expertise. Ask for help, assess the facts, make a decision and move on quickly.
  3. Proactively help others succeed. Your personal team will grow stronger if you empower your team and look for opportunities to help people up the ladder.

Whether you are a business leader – or an emerging business leader – you surely are driving toward a goal. Stick with it, surround yourselves by other great minds, and others will follow in your footsteps.

Lisa Gable is CEO of FARE and has served as US Ambassador, UN Delegate, Chairman of the Board and advisor to Presidents, Governors, and CEOs of Fortune 500 and CPG Companies worldwide. Author of Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, Lisa has become known as a turnaround mastermind who operates with discipline and diplomacy. The book is available for pre-order at all major retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Porchlight.

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