Leaders Wanted… Good Managers Need Not Apply

It may seem unfair, but today’s hard-driving, highly successful managers confront a chilling reality. What got them moving up the corporate ladder is less and less likely to get them to the top. Organisations planning to succeed for the next 30 years are looking for leaders, not managers; not even great ones.

Over the last decade the single biggest trend in the South African private sector is the emphasis on leadership quality. Companies looking to fill the top job regard managerial competence as a given. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Managers who sweat assets, cut costs and get results are indispensable. But if that’s all your CV says about you, then you don’t fit the bill for the highest echelons in business. Putting ticks in those boxes means you know your ABCs when the X Factor is the principal requirement.

These conclusions are supported by years of experience at sourcing candidates who meet the job specifications for executive management jobs at some of South Africa’s largest companies. International literature suggests the same applies worldwide.

We see growing awareness of the distinction between leadership and management.

Management is transactional; leadership transformational. Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing. Managers work within the status quo; leaders often don’t. Managers think short term; leaders take a long view. Managers chop down the trees to penetrate the jungle; leaders go round the jungle. Managers know the rules; leaders the exceptions. The list is endless.

Many erudite papers now pontificate about leadership. But getting philosophical and quoting Lao-tsu probably won’t help perspiring managers become inspiring leaders.

What might help is greater awareness of certain characteristics that identify top candidates for the very top jobs. Here are six:

People power: Leaders get the best out of people. They are often charismatic. Don’t confuse this with being flamboyant, though on occasion they might go together.

They give direction, but team members are happy to go further than directed. Tomorrow’s leader says ‘they work with me’, not ‘they work for me’.

For a task-driven manager the job is more important than people. The executive with leadership potential believes people are more important than the task (yet still gets the job done). Motivational power comes through. The leader will coach and encourage rather than coerce.

Vision: The would-be leader knows last quarter’s figures, but is more focused on the future. He or she talks about the bigger picture and is not afraid to invest to achieve long-term goals.

These strategists avoid tunnel vision by focusing on broad objectives. They know the numbers, but never get bogged down in detail.

Confidence: One result of future focus and strategic thinking is optimism. This is apparent even in tough times – a quality main board directors appreciate. Tomorrow’s leader has quiet confidence. This never morphs into arrogance. Many strong, powerful leaders are known for their humility.

Inner confidence enables these individuals to look at business risk in a positive way. They see opportunities and if the risk-and-return proposition justifies the step, they are not afraid to make some big calls.

Confidence is also apparent in their approach to technology. Today’s leaders are techno-savvy. They may use a range of handheld devices. They are not PA-dependent when they have to Google or Skype or go on to Facebook and Twitter to check consumer feedback. Technology is an opportunity, not a threat and certainly no mystery.

Diversity leverage: Individuals who identify themselves as good leaders are comfortable working in groups of dissimilar people. This extends beyond race and multi-culturalism. They appreciate the contribution of various personality types. They tolerate (even encourage) some mavericks; perhaps because they have maverick qualities of their own.

Lateral movement: Their CVs reveal some side-steps or time out for reflection. They may take a gap year to study philosophy, travel the world or climb Mount Everest.

Lateral movements like this often confirm the individual is a lateral thinker with inner self-belief. You don’t walk away in mid-career if you are worried about your capacity to get back on top.

The individual gathers wider experience and develops in new ways. The rat that wins the rat race remains a rat. The well-rounded individual who evolves, learns and adapts is trying to be a winner in the human race.

Balance: The new generation of leaders have greater balance in their lives than some of their predecessors. They are not workaholics. Their conversation extends beyond work.

They attend their kids’ school sports day. They walk down to the shop floor or chat to the guys in the warehouse. They attend the little office party for Lebo, the accounts lady who thought no one in management was interested.

Leaders have various styles and strengths, so these six qualities are accompanied by many more. But this ‘six pack’ is common to many of those who have broken through to the very top this last 10 years.

They are six of the best, most important leadership characteristics. Develop them and a good manager just might make a great leader.

Annelize van Rensburg is a co-founder and director of Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.

Are You a Chameleon or a Protean in Managing Your Career and Your Organisation?

South Africans are becoming adept at change management. Industries are changing. Managers have to build greater flexibility into their organisations. They track trends and technologies. They engage in risk assessments and prepare for a future that may move their companies in entirely new directions.

They do all this for their organisations … but forget to do it for themselves. There is a mismatch here. If business has to be future-ready, so does the individual.

This logic is increasingly accepted internationally where personal preparedness for a new future leads to the development of ‘the protean career’, a term that is now quite common among career professionals and industrial psychologists.

This career is driven by an individual’s own values and goals. The individual is eager to try new things to foster personal growth. New skills are embraced and time out may be taken to achieve some personal ambition.

The traditional careerist is a chameleon who only adapts to immediate delivery requirements and thinks in linear terms, moving ever onward and upward. He (or she) follows standard practice rather than personal inclination. But if the business changes, narrow, industry-specific skills may suddenly seem irrelevant.

In contrast, the protean career-builder is ready for change and savours the chance to do something new.

Locally, we now see growing acceptance of CVs with some protean elements.

Until recently, a ‘gap year’ raised a few questions. Flitting across industries raised eyebrows. Moving into seven or eight different jobs in perhaps 10 or 12 years raised a red flag. Not any more!

Locally, such behaviour no longer excludes a candidate from an initial interview. Internationally, it might catapult the candidate onto the shortlist!

One factor driving the trend to the self-directed career strategy is the realisation that in 10 or 15 years an individual may be applying for a job that does not currently exist.

Blogger-entrepreneurs did not exist five years ago. They do today.

Other careers are just over the horizon; for instance, advances in bio-tissues, plastics and robotics could turn body part manufacture into a highly lucrative niche industry.

Pharming (rather than farming) could be another growth industry as the need for genetically engineered livestock and crops will increase dramatically as the world’s population increases.

Longevity will increase the demand for old age wellness managers. Genetic screening is another niche opportunity.

Some niches, like social media, will go mainstream, creating career opportunities for ‘social media officers’ who will have the job of building the number of ‘likes’, ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ for consumer brands.

The protean has the mental flexibility to succeed in an environment like this. The traditional careerist is more likely to sit tight in a declining industry and decline along with it.

So, how does one develop into a potential ‘shape-shifter’ (another term for the protean)?

International experience highlights six distinct patterns of behaviour:

Downscaling – these individuals live within their means and create a financial reserve (not for retirement but for mid-career). They need money to take a sabbatical or enrol at Heidelberg University to study philosophy or go to the Himalayas.

1. Developing supplementary sources of income – perhaps by turning a hobby into a small business or earning extra cash from consultancy or weekend work (not only to build a financial reserve but to take the individual out of the nine-to-five rut).

2. Getting fit – by looking after yourself, exercising well and eating properly. Mental flexibility requires physical health and energy.

3. Cutting TV time – to create space for more reading and self-development. Future-spotters engage in lifelong education and are rewarded accordingly.

4. Knowing themselves – protean career-builders have a clear sense of personal identity and core values and an acute appreciation of what is important in life. They also have a clear idea of where they want to be in the next five or 10 years.

Adopting non-traditional criteria for success – these highly adaptable people set their own standards. To do something meaningful, they will move sideways in their careers or even take a step down if it fills a gap in their lives or enables them to make a contribution. In some professional situations, taking on pro bono work is one way of making a difference.

Protean attitudes are another key differentiator.

The protean is in charge of his or her career (not the organisation). The protean demands the freedom to grow. That may or may not involve advancement.

Their self-esteem is not based on salary or job title. They derive satisfaction from their work and their level of professionalism, no matter what they do. Their own happiness is a key benchmark.

Mobility and adaptability are increasingly evident in the South African corporate environment. However, it is still rare for major organisations to overtly specify the flexi future-spotter and shape-shifter when looking to fill a senior post.

It’s probably just a matter of time. After all, an IT specialist recently became Master Chef SA. That’s quite a shift.

Michelle Moss is Head of Assessment at Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.