From management to leadership

When I was named partner, I recall a conversation with our firm’s founder, the late Chuck Schnake.

“I sense that I need to rise up a step,” I said. “But I’m not sure what that means. Or what it looks like. Or how to get there.” (If you’re now wondering how I made partner, I don’t blame you.)

Those of us who knew Chuck recall his “side of the hill” analogy.

“You spend much of your day digging a ditch,” he said. “Head down, working hard. But occasionally, you need to go up on the side of the hill. Take a look at the bigger picture, get some perspective.”

Chuck’s metaphor was spot-on for a many scenarios, from athletics, to creativity, to personal growth. It’s especially true for organizational leadership.

Making the transition from “management” to “leadership” isn’t always easy. It’s a gradual shift. You don’t flip a switch into a new role. And it’s rarely one or the other – most people in leadership still work in management.

While there’s some overlap, there are ways to differentiate between the two disciplines.

Management typically means dealing with what’s in front of you – projects, budgets, staffing, deliverables. Leadership means looking ahead. A hallmark of great leadership is to look over the horizon, anticipate what’s coming and develop a strategy.

Management is concrete. Leadership is abstract.

Management is more task-oriented. Leadership is people-oriented.

Management has a narrower focus, but deeper in details. Leadership means a broader focus, not as deep.

Some leaders struggle to let go of previous day-to-day tasks. This is the expertise that’s fueled your career; you’ve built your reputation around it. Now you’re being asked to back off.

Leaders owe it to themselves and others to stay out of the weeds. Doing so empowers your team and entrusts confidence.

Not letting go is often symptomatic of other things. It could mean you don’t have the right people in place. If so, develop them or make a change.

It could mean you don’t believe they can do it as well as you. You may be right. But show some grace; allow them to succeed on their own merits.

Or it could mean you’re clinging to your old duties as a security blanket. If so, make a clean break. Recommit yourself to your new role.

It’s the only way you’ll get the headspace needed to prosper in your new role.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He writes a monthly column for The Journal Record.