3 Twenty-Ten Trends that are putting the Manager Vs Leader debate to bed

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As someone who has researched and worked in the field of leadership development for over 25 years, there is something that has always perplexed me: why is it that so many seminal thinkers on leadership (Zaleznik, Kotter, Gardner, Bennis, Drucker, Covey, Heifetz) make a clear distinction between management and leadership; and yet the formal route to leadership for most conventional organisations continues to be through management progression? Kotter made the observation thirty years ago:

Most of the successful white-collar workers in the past hundred years found reputable companies to work for early in their lives and then moved up narrow functional hierarchies while learning the art of management […] to progress beyond a certain level one had to learn about management, but not much about leadership.

Most organisations still rely on management structures to groom their leaders. I have always found this baffling for three reasons:

1. Great leaders can be overlooked at recruitment. As Dov Frohman argues in Leadership the Hard Way: Why Leadership Can´t be Taught and How you Can Learn it Anyway: “leaders are found in the strangest places. Often the best candidates turn out to be people from outside the mainstream — the misfits, the critics, sometimes even the naysayers — who at first glance one would never expect would have leadership potential.”

2. Great leaders who do not excel in basic managerial skills are often professionally shelved.

3. As developmentalists, we spend a disproportion amount of our time deprogramming leaders from years of routine managerial habits.

But things are changing. There is a quiet revolution taking place out there right now where people are circumventing formal leadership development programmes and finding their own successful routes to becoming effective leaders; and they are doing it on the back of three major twenty-ten trends.

Job Hopping

Once frowned upon as a signal of disloyalty and lacking in focus, job hopping is now considered savvy careerism. As this Forbes article indicates, employee tenure is decreasing particularly among the millennials and employees are more open to hiring job hoppers. In conventional companies one must still serve out an assignment of typically 3-5 years and in-role growth and development is dependent on job scope, bosses and HR. People who self-resource, create their own growth and pay opportunities.

Freelancing and entrepreneurship

People are becoming their own boss. As employment surveys such as Deloitte`s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 indicate, the amount of freelancers, gigsters and contractors are on the rise. A People Hour survey suggests that by 2020 one in two of the working population in the UK and US will be self-employed. A Bentley University study shows that only 13% of surveyed millennials were interested in “climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president” with a whopping 67% aspiring to entrepreneurship.

Social Media

People are finding ways to promote their experience and expertise on social media. In a recent HBR article, Dorie Clark advises people to use social media to stand out and achieve recognition. Steadily publishing on blogs as guest contributors, starting your own website, using the pulse facility on LinkedIn to publish your ideas or becoming an active commentator in groups has never been easier and as Dorie Clark says, “When you share your knowledge publicly, your expertise can be recognized – and you’ll reap the benefits in the form of new client inquiries, respect from your peers, and opportunities you likely can’t yet imagine.” Your bosses and peers will notice if you regularly publish on reputable blogs and have a healthy number of followers on Linkedin/Twitter and that will give you thought-leader status and pay professional dividends.

The days of the processed leader (or ‘driven’ leader as Warren Bennis termed it) passing through formal managerial hoops are numbered. Many commentators predict a shift in the way leaders will be selected and developed within organisations but are missing the broader paradigm shift where knowledge workers are bypassing the conventional processed route in favour of self-emerging/self-resourcing leadership development, choosing to build their reputation and leadership skills through job hopping, social media and entrepreneurship.

by Ric Kelly PhD.