Leading from the trees

The climb from Manager to Leader.

leader in trees

One of the most difficult transitions to make within large organisations is going from manager to leader. The reason for this is because it is a behavioural (mindset) shift which most organisations do not prepare their emerging leader for. Indeed, in most large organisations, the route to leadership is through management and the task of managing (as so many leadership commentators have pointed out – Bennis Kotter Gardner etc.) is a wholly different activity than the task of leading.

I like the late Stephen Covey’s perspective on this when he said that the leader is the one who “climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!” We need our leaders to be in the trees, to be looking at the big picture, the multiple scenarios, the vision and the way ahead. Too many of our leaders (particularly newly appointed leaders) find this difficult – they are still tempted to get involved in the everyday nitty gritty (thinking that this is leadership). They can’t help it – they have been trained to do this; they have been coached and schooled in management, where they spent their formative years being ranked, judged (and promoted) on their ability to organise, coordinate, marshal and carve out the path to the vision. They worked their way up through all the job groups and then (based on their management performance) were slotted into a leadership role and expected to be able to climb trees and do a very different function (formulate vision, think big picture, strategise on direction, build shared vision, scenario plan, and motivate through thought leadership and earned respect). No wonder so many of our freshly promoted leaders fail. Leaders who can’t climb trees and are down on the jungle floor are a menace to the organisation because they demotivate their high performing managers, create bottle necks in the organisational decision making as everyday decisions are funnelled through them, create a culture where everyone goes over everyone’s head, overstretch and overwork themselves with all their fingers in the different pies and take their focus off the role they should be doing which is checking that everyone is in the right jungle.

As leadership development specialists, we can’t always change overnight the culture or structures that creates leaders, but we should definitely be encouraging and teaching our emerging leaders to climb trees at an early age so that the (behavioural) transition between manager and leader runs a little smoother.

Richard Kelly PhD.
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