The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: “How do you prepare for a management role?” is written by KT Lindberger-Schmidt, chief human resource officer and general counsel at Digital River.
All too often, people confuse leadership and management. They require similar qualities – both a technical and an interpersonal acumen – but they aren’t synonymous. The fact is, not everyone who’s put in a management role is a good fit and, more often than not, that quickly becomes evident in their results. Managers who become the best leaders are those who not only have technical expertise, but also possess the ability to inspire others toward a common goal. And unfortunately, many companies thrust people into roles for which they may be ill-prepared or not well suited.
Only you can truly know your strengths, which is why it’s essential to take an honest inventory of your core skills and decide if a management role is right for you. From my experience, there are a few considerations you’ll want to make as you assess your readiness:
Understand and solve problems other than your own
One of the business leaders I admire most, an old boss of mine, once told me that in order for me to be able to do what he asked of me, I needed to understand both his and his boss’s problems. This is one of the first lessons you learn as a manager – your job is no longer to solve only what’s in front of you, but to also help solve the problems of the senior leaders who organizationally are positioned above you.
Keeping this approach in mind as you develop your management style will make it easier to get a seat at the table, putting you in a better position to talk about the business at a strategic level and with a more robust understanding of its issues. When I first started in management, I sought input from individuals who had influence over my boss and his outcomes and read anything I could in that domain to become familiar with the issues he faced. This meant reading business news to understand broader market and economic trends and issues, rather than focusing just on my own domain in human resources.
Become Familiar with Emotional Intelligence
Successfully working at a management level requires emotional intelligence: the skills that enable you to recognize emotions, put them in context and use them to guide behavior. Tapping into this can be a powerful tool for maintaining engaged employees.
As a high-tech company, we employ a lot of engineers at Digital River. So while it comes as no surprise that we naturally understand structure and order, we also want our managers to display emotional intelligence. This can be a unique challenge, as structure-based thinking, or “Thinkers” under the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can seem opposite to the way “Feelers” understand emotional intelligence.
That’s why I’m a believer in championing a strengths-based approach, where we put people in a position to succeed by allowing them to focus primarily on their strengths. Approaches that attempt to overcome deficits are a fool’s game. I’d love to play in the NBA, but I’m not 6’7”and I can’t run as fast, shoot as well or jump as high as these athletes – it would be a better use of my time and my strengths if I instead focus on areas where I can excel.
Learn to lead, not direct
I find leading people to be much more effective than trying to manage everything they do. For this reason, the servant-leader model of leadership is my aspiration: inspiring others to follow while empowering them to develop and perform at the highest level possible. Given the challenges we face in a global economy, we need to consider how proper leadership can create an engaged workforce, as that will be one of our most important sustained economic differences. And this transcends all industries: an inspired workforce is an engaged workforce and an engaged workforce achieves better results. Successful managers will be the ones who remove themselves from tactical work to set a vision and inspire their team. While they share power and responsibility, they’re also the people their teams want to follow.
One of my very first bosses said to me, “you’re paid according to the size of problems you solve,” a statement that has stayed with me and I believe is a powerful approach to management. The more you’re able to prepare yourself to be a resource to others – who work at levels both above and below you – the more capable you’ll be to solve greater and more complex problems. Putting yourself in a better position to problem solve will ultimately set you up to be successful in manageme