For upper-level managers to maximize the productivity and profitability of their businesses, they must evolve from managers into leaders. From a leadership mindset, rather than a management-focused mindset, upper-level managers can become instruments of change, take calculated risks, plan long-term, expand their knowledge and skills, and mentor others. Leaders move beyond reinforcing what has always been and elevate their thinking to what could be.
Differentiating between leadership and management does not diminish the importance and value of management positions. In fact, upper-level managers, who are members of the board of directors, company presidents, and chief executives, are still technically managers. The distinction between leadership and management, however, occurs in defining each concept’s intentions and philosophies. Leaders create the path; managers follow it.
Here are four ways upper-level managers can model leadership within their organizations:
1. Show Rather Than Tell
“A leader is a person you will follow to a place you would not go by yourself.” – Joel Barker
The cornerstone of demonstrating leadership within upper-level management is to embody the professionalism and decision-making skills upper-level managers expect from their mid- and first-level managers and employees. Otherwise, the result is not only hypocrisy, but also a rudderless company culture.
Leaders know their values and weave those values into their ideas, attitudes, and actions. These four leadership modeling suggestions will not only help upper-level managers set the leadership examples they want to witness in others, but also ensure those leadership values reverberate throughout their business:
Determine the ways leadership values are reflected within the business as well as the areas within the business where those values are not evident.
Share these values with other upper-level managers, mid-level managers, first-level managers, and employees. Ask for feedback about the values presented and welcome suggestions from colleagues about other important value points that resonate with team members.
Values should reinforce the company’s mission and goals, so promote those values in company literature, on the business’s website, via customer and client interactions, and through one-on-one and team engagements with personnel.
Create an environment of accountability. Acknowledge failures as well as celebrate achievements in modeling company values. When values are not reflected, discuss growth and implement actionable steps for change; likewise, when values are demonstrated, validate those words and actions with individual, team, department, or company-wide recognition as appropriate.
2. Inspire a Common Company Vision
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter
An upper-level manager embodying leadership is someone who focuses on the bigger picture. They recognize that they are not only responsible for crafting the company’s vision, but also for ensuring that this vision is one that will inspire others to be all-in on realizing it. Modeling leadership in this way also means that an upper-level manager should both willingly accept constructive criticism and strive to create an environment where feedback is encouraged by default. After all, the company vision should be a shared one—and teamwork makes the dream work.
Inspiring others within a business is so important for upper management that the opposite result—uninspired leadership—has measurable, negative effects. Joseph Folkman, a behavioral statistician who has conducted research on the effects of leadership development, found that leaders who ranked below the 10th percentile on their ability to inspire others fostered an environment where 93% felt the workplace was highly unproductive and 47% thought about quitting their jobs.
3. Facilitate Others’ Development
“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” – Seth Godin
True leaders foster action; they make a way for others to thrive individually as well as part of the collective or, in this case, the business. Successful leaders in upper management elicit the best performances from their fellow managers and teams. They recognize potential, reward accomplishments, and inspire other leaders to emerge within their organization.
A rolling effect of leadership creation is entirely possible within any organization where leadership is effectively modeled at the upper management level. An InitiativeOne Leadership Institute report from 2018 indicated that 30%–60% of leadership behaviors are developed over time through individuals who exhibit traits like authenticity, deep listening, positivity, and self-awareness. This again illustrates that effective organizational leadership begins with upper-level management and is mirrored throughout the company by managers and employees who feel valued and recognized.
4. Embrace Change
“The things we fear most in organizations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.” – Margaret Wheatley
Immovable upper-level managers are not leaders; they are statues frozen in the past while everyone else moves around and beyond them. Part of modeling leadership in upper-level management means embracing change, which can be a difficult undertaking. But leadership means shrugging off the comfort of “good enough” and rejecting the status quo. Successful upper-level managers recognize when it is time to rethink best practices, adopt new technologies, and streamline processes. They are willing to take risks to achieve progress, as well as accept responsibility for failures, because every moment is a learning experience.
While there is no one standard for how an upper-level manager should conduct their business or direct their teams, there are certain examples of leadership modeling that lend themselves to business success. Effective leaders lead by example, inspire others, are not intimidated by others’ victories, and do not shy away from change. Starting today, how will you begin modeling leadership within your business and forge the path for success?
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