Manager’s role a big leap
Are good managers manufactured, or are they born? Or is it a case of perfecting natural instincts through training? Julia Stirling finds out
BORN to lead? It’s a much debated topic. Some argue leadership skills can be taught while others say it is something more innate. According to research, the very best leaders are recognised for their commitment, integrity, hard work and toughness says James Sarros, professor of management at Monash University and co-author of The Character of Leadership .
‘‘ Leaders aren’t in it for their egos, but for the sustained success of the company or organisation. And they need to enjoy what they do, because any leadership position takes time and may take a toll on personal activities and quality of life issues,’’ he says.
Nic Blakemore, head of distribution at CMC Markets, believes people can be taught leadership skills but also that ‘‘ you actually have to have an inner drive to exhibit all those necessary behaviours that leaders exhibit’’.
Blakemore’s general management role requires him to be a leader. He is responsible for all the client-facing parts of the business such as sales, client service and client education, along with operational support for those people. He manages approximately 200 people across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Japan.
Before moving into a general management role, Blakemore says, people need to have an inner desire to grow or improve all aspects of the business.
‘‘ You have to have people skills, financial skills, system and process skills and sales and marketing skills. You don’t have to be a specialist, as you have specialist managers in the business to undertake those roles, but you do need to understand the role they play in a business and how they interact with one another.
‘‘ Leadership is pivotal, you must be able to coach, communicate well, think strategically, implement well and never be satisfied with the status quo. As an example, our employees have told us they want to understand the strategy of the business, what part they play and what the future looks like. While this may appear obvious, it is one aspect that general management either assumes has happened — or overlooks,’’ says Blakemore.
When Blakemore was at school and in college he says he wanted to be noticed and was ‘‘ one of the world’s worst students — I was the one who misbehaved at the back to get attention’’. Although he always had an innate desire to win in everything he did, he didn’t tune into the fact that he had some sort of skill-set until later in life when people started approaching him about how he did things, or why he was yards in front of everyone else.
When he ‘‘ found his groove’’ in terms of a Managementis,andalwayswillbe,anuncertainart. Andmasteryofanyartisephemeralatbest.We deludeourselvesifwethinkotherwise,andsuch arrogancecanonlyleadtohubris.Whatworksone dayisoverturnedthenextbythevagariesoffortune ortheunpredictabilityofhumanbehaviour,factors beyondourcontrolandsometimesbeyondour understanding.
writinginWhatAustralianLeadersWant career in financial services, he was encouraged by his peers and senior executives and began to self-appraise and develop the necessary things he needed to do to develop his career. These included taking part in leadership programs where he was mentored, as well as studying MBA units appropriate to the particular role he was in at the time.
Carolyn Barker, chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management (Qld & NT) and director of CyberInstitute Pty Ltd, says in 80 per cent of cases, specialist managers prepare for general management roles through their own self-motivation.
They have their own vision of their career, goals and success. ‘‘ They want the challenge of a broader role, they observe others, they offer themselves for roles internally and they literally learn on the job. They do so because they have a passion for, and predisposition, to manage more complex and ambiguous tasks.
‘‘ You can have a whole bunch of people that you observe at work and some just naturally want to be leaders, and in doing so they seem to find ways to access information.’’ Barker says they self-educate by taking advantage of internal programs and formal and external programs, such as an MBA, or short sharp executive retreats and learning conventions.
When specialist managers contemplate moving into a general management role, Barker says they need to think carefully about their own natural predisposition for managing and communicating with people, juggling complex and ambiguous tasks, and keeping their poise and cool under fire. Barker says people need to ask themselves what their genuine motivation is for wanting to be in general management. ‘‘ I think it comes back to a genuine love of managing, communicating, enthusing and motivating people,’’ she says.
Barker has observed organisations over the past 15 years as they promote people into general management roles, and she says the greatest difficulty specialists have when moving into the general management role is managing people. ‘‘ Often in their undergraduate degree or their cadetship or internship, they’re not taught about people management — they’re taught how to be better specialists,’’ she says.
Barker says businesses sometimes make the terrible mistake of assuming a superb specialist manager will automatically make a great general manager. ‘‘ Sometimes we in business burn good people and burn specialists’ careers because we encourage them to go into general management and they are just not cut out for it.
‘‘ Preserve the brilliance of the specialist managers and continue to empower them and support them — don’t burn their careers if they are not up to it; have a process that allows you to see that specialist managers are going to be capable of a more general portfolio before you put them in that situation.’’
When John Mills, head of Pitcher Partners’ search and selection division, looks for a general manager he usually looks for someone who has a fair breadth of experience, good interpersonal skills, the ability to learn quickly, think strategically and be able look at the day-to-day operations.
Mills says there are usually a large number of applicants applying for general management roles, and it’s not unusual to have 100 — but not all of them are contenders for the role. He gives the example of one applicant for a general management role who had four degrees — but no industry experience. ‘‘ She wouldn’t even be considered, she’d never managed people,’’ he says. Mills advises people to have some industry experience before they do an MBA, so as to obtain the most value out of it.
Mills says people moving into a general management role should be prepared to take the opportunities when they present themselves. It may mean moving interstate, or to the country and back again to the city. ‘‘ I think sometimes going the extra mile is a way to prove yourself — doing those extra things, taking on the extra workload and getting involved in different projects for your development,’’ he says.
Sarros says an MBA gives people a good overview of what managers do, and if done while at a junior level in an organisation, can give you the edge. ‘‘ It shows the employing organisation that you’ve got skills in the general management area, then they can train you up in specific areas,’’ he says.
Monash University, for instance, recommends students have a few years’ industry experience before they are accepted into the MBA program. The leadership development program is based on a successful European program which develops students’ leadership profiles through interactive sessions. Sarros says it is an ongoing process where students are mentored by staff to develop leadership competencies.
Says Blakemore, ‘‘ If you are a specialist manager you would likely have a team of people who focused on your specialisation. When moving into a general management role, you will need to self-assess to be sure you really want to take the leap to deal with many other aspects of the business. If you do make the leap, some of the pitfalls are not delegating, not recognising your own weaknesses, and focusing too much on strategy and creativity and forgetting you have to manage a business.’’
General managers need to trust their team and to some extent let go of control. ‘‘ It’s like letting your children go away in the car for the first time — you know they can drive, but you’re still nervous about it. You’ve got to give people autonomy to run parts of the business. Once again it comes down to once you’ve recruited the right people, those people will do the task they are employed to do. A lot of it is down to people management.’’
Caution: Carolyn Barker says good specialists don’t always make good people managers
Inner drive: Nic Blakemore says successful managers and leaders are motivated by natural instinct