The perspective of management has evolved over the years. In the past, if you wanted to be successful and wealthy, you had to be a manager or a boss. It was everyone’s aim to get promoted to that role. My father used to always ask me, “When is your employer going to promote you?”, “When will you get your next promotion?”, and all possible variations of that. Today, a lot has changed. To be successful and wealthy, you don’t need to be a manager at all. You could instead be a specialist and be very well paid.
Of course, the status of such a role and position is sometimes coveted because of the prestige associated with it. Some people want leadership roles because they look nice on business cards. There’s also a false impression that once you’re a manager, you give orders and don’t need to do actual work.
The reality is that being in management is not glamorous. It requires you to give and deliver a lot more than a regular role, and it requires you to lead. Not all managers are good leaders. You can be managing a team of accountants by inspiring them and being a mentor to them, or you can be someone who is operationally giving out tasks and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) weekly or monthly. The former is a leader, the latter is not.
Don’t become a manager because your parents, family, colleagues or friends are pressurising you. Some people get mocked by others because they've been in the same role for five or six years without being promoted to a leadership role. But the truth is that working at a role for a long period of time doesn’t mean you have or should be a leader. Leadership isn’t about experience, it’s about people. If you don’t enjoy interacting with people, you should probably forget about going into management. Of course, some industries need an operational manager who tracks their results, but this manager still needs to be leading others to some extent.
Management is more about processes while leadership is about people. A manager is a team head who is responsible for a specific project, like a project manager who is overseeing a project. Leadership, on the other hand, is about managing emotions and people. This concept relates to a theory in Martin Buber’s book where he discusses two types of human relationship. The first relationship is the “I and you” relationship. The second relationship is the “I and it”. The “I and you” relationship represents leadership where you care for the person and connect with them. The “I and it” relationship is very much like operational management where you treat the person as a task provider who needs to meet the output you’ve laid out for them.
Leadership is a little like being a conductor of an orchestra. You could have 25 professional musicians who are great at what they do, but if they aren’t led, it would sound horrible. Everyone would do their own thing, and they wouldn’t sound good together. The conductor leads and signals to the musicians when it’s their turn and gives signs about how they should be playing. He is conducting it with such love and devotion that he himself becomes the music. He gives meaning to the music. Likewise, you could have 25 amazing accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents and other functions but your team members will do a lot better and produce the best result for the company when you lead them well.
One of the most important factors that differentiates a good manager from a real leader is love. Like a good conductor who is transferring his love to the musicians through his eyes, gestures and arm movements, you, as a good leader, should focus on building relationships, improving communication within the team and showing empathy. As a result, the team will love, trust and always follow you.
Great managers raise new managers, and you need to be willing to grow others and help them shine. You need to develop the skill of sharing and grooming others, which may not come naturally for everyone. Even before you get your leadership role, you can begin to give your time, advice, knowledge and experience. The basics of leadership include the ability to be a visionary, create a followership, decision making, coaching, and effective communication. All of these abilities can be developed well before you enter your leadership role.
About 70% of your job as a manager would involve working with people. If it’s boring for you and you prefer to get things done, you may not want to be a manager. If you’re just looking for a pay upgrade, then you’re better off specialising in something you love because you will likely enjoy that a lot more. If you feel that you have a desire to help groom others, then you can consider a managerial role.
Before you have your sights set on getting a managerial or leadership role, you need to do some self-reflection. Do you really want to be a manager? What does it mean for you to be a manager? What does it mean for you to be a leader? Do you think that you'll be happier and wealthier? Do you have the feeling that you want to do more?
When I wake up in the morning, I have a feeling that I want to change the world. It's an amazing and motivating feeling. My job isn’t just about sending out emails, generating reports, and making presentations. There should be this bigger picture: I really want to do something for society. There are a lot of people doing technical or operational tasks, and they don’t feel the need to do more. That’s great because we need a good balance and mixture of people in the working world. So if you enjoy doing operational and technical tasks, go for it. If you have a desire to do more and want to change what’s around you and impact people, leadership is for you.
So what can you do to get promoted? There are some key actions you can start taking now.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a chance. Voice it out to your manager. Don't stop yourself because you fear that it doesn't make sense because of your age. If a 21-year-old tells me that they want to be a manager, their age wouldn’t impact my decision. I know great leaders who are 24 and bad leaders who are 55.
When you ask for a chance, you start on the grooming process which usually requires more responsibility and that will grow you. Sometimes you may even find that you prefer not to be a manager. You won’t know until you ask for a chance.
One of my financial advisors came up to me and said that he wanted to be a manager. This advisor had a $200 million portfolio which was good. Before promoting him, I told him I would start by letting him share his experience with junior staff by taking them to client meetings and showing them how to succeed.
Within a month, one of the junior staff came to me and said that they were meeting with this financial advisor every week, but they didn’t get to attend any client meetings together. Everything was theoretical.
In two months, this financial advisor who wanted to be a manager told me that every time he was about to take the junior staff to a client meeting, he felt very uncomfortable because it's his business. Why should he give them such an opportunity that he worked hard to get. It’s completely understandable that he feels that way, but it shows that he is not ready to step into management; he still needs to adjust his thinking in this regard. But neither of us would have known until the chance was given. Ask for a chance and take up the responsibilities you are offered, it will either help you shine or help you realise that you may not want such roles.
Stay updated with news. You don’t need to read all the newspapers out there, but you should know what's happening in the world, in your industry, and with your competitors. Read different literature, read about other business leaders, coaches, and financial news. It’s also important to stay up to date with technology. You should learn more about technology and what’s up and coming, so that you are aware of opportunities or ideas that could arise.
More importantly, you should stay up to date about people’s lives and be aware of the mood of the people around you. Be a humanitarian who is willing to invest in people and understand them better. Being emotionally intelligent and aware is crucial. Every morning I carefully observe my team members. I try to identify what's happening and what they’re feeling. You can’t have the mindset that it doesn't matter what's happening in another person’s family or personal life. You need to pick up on such signs in the morning.
It doesn’t mean you should confront them and ask what happened. Instead, you need to try to manage the moods of others and build morale. Learn to control destructive emotions so the emotions don't control your business. This will make you stand out and position you for more leadership roles. Managing people and their emotions is vital.
Your creativity will also help you to stand out. Good leaders are innovators, regardless of their industry. Look for opportunities to be creative and display your creativity through new and exciting ideas, technology, and ways of thinking. Companies need creative people who want to add value. Such people are more positioned to be promoted.
Exponential thinking is very powerful especially with the challenges that the world is facing today. These challenges are often referred to as VUCA which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. VUCA is from leadership theories by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, first used in 1987. To overcome these challenges, we need to think exponentially and not linearly. The linear mindset focuses on making things better, while the exponential mindset is about making things different. If you display the ability to think exponentially, you again position yourself for more leadership roles.
We’re living in the New Renaissance and this new era is not going to be created by Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, but by artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual and augmented realities. These are the factors which lead to a trend of exponential growth. According to an Oxford study, all the developed nations will face job loss rates of up to 47% within the next 25 years. Hence, one day you are going to be disrupted if you don’t act proactively. Try thinking exponentially and develop a growth mindset, which means that you need to be always prepared for the new paradigm and reveal the new opportunities. Without this exponential approach, Facebook, Airbnb, Alibaba and other such companies wouldn’t have become the most innovative organisations in the world. Always bear in mind that exponential changes can never be implemented by mediocre, old-style managers.
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Team Head, Senior VP | ED
Pictet Group | UBS