The tough transition…

As a leadership coach, one of the most fulfilling experiences is watching a client transition from being a manager into being a leader.   Many people experience the need to transition between managing and leading at some point in their career.   Some successfully navigate this transition and continue to mature in their careers, and some find this transition to be a significant obstacle.  For many, this transition is frustrating, non-intuitive, and even a bit frightening.

One of the questions I often ask my clients is: “What is the difference between a manager and a leader?”   Oftentimes, this question is difficult to answer.  In the cases when it is tough, I will ask: “How does it feel to be led? And how is that different from the feeling of being managed?”   This question often produces a rapid response!   In my experience, people very rarely speak highly of the “way it feels” to be managed.  They use words like: intimidation, control, manipulation, and even fear.  In contrast, many speak of the experience of being led as inspirational, transformative, pivotal, and empowering.   Such a vast difference!

As awareness of this difference becomes more common in the marketplace, an increasing amount of effort is being expended by organizations in the effort to teach managers how to behave like leaders.    Often, these efforts are met with limited or no success.   The question one might ask is, why is this so hard?!?   The answer lies in the fact that behavioral change is not at the core of our ability to lead.  However, our beliefs are.

Beliefs are at the core…

Let me introduce this concept by making one important connection more evident.   There is a fundamental and powerful connection between our beliefs, our feelings, and our behaviors.   Another way of saying this is that what we believe to be true about a person or circumstance often dictates how we feel about that person or circumstance.  Likewise, it has been shown through brain imaging research that the way we feel about a circumstance dictates how we react to it.  Simply stated: Beliefs shape our feelings, and feelings shape our actions.  To illustrate this connection: If I believe that my phone call to my significant other went to voice mail because I am being ignored, I might feel angry; and if I feel angry, I might react by ignoring their return call.  On the other hand, if I believe that my phone call went to voice mail because he or she is planning a memorable date night, I might feel some eager anticipation which may prompt me to respond by sending a text message with heart shaped emoticons.

Given the connection between our beliefs and behaviors, it is not surprising that approaches to teaching leadership that focus on changing behaviors and actions often fall short of the results that we are hoping for.   These approaches are starting at the end of the chain of events and ignoring the important factors that motivate the behaviors.   For a person to learn how to swim, they must first believe that they will not drown when they jump in the water.   In the same way, for a person to learn how to lead, they must first accept the core beliefs of a leader.   To be sure, there is something to be said about learning the 4 basic strokes as it relates to  swimming proficiency.  However, a core belief about the nature of the water and its relationship to the learner enables the first jump into the pool.

So what are the core beliefs that unlock our ability to lead?

I have found that our core beliefs on two important areas are critical to unlocking our ability to lead.  The first area is what we believe to be true about our team.  The second is what we believe to be true about ourselves.   In the next few posts we will examine these areas in more detail.


Phillip Stoller