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Nick Hughes
Executive Career Solutions
Executive Career Solutions

Nick's posts

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There has been much discussion about what makes a good candidate for employers. Essentially, it boils down to half a dozen selection criteria as defined by leading recruitment professionals.

We also like to think manageability should be included as it is being receptive to being managed as well as the ability to manage others regardless of level of responsibility within an organisation. Even at executive leadership level there is still an element of 'line management' responsibility, whether directly reporting to the executive board or overseeing director-level reports of your own.

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Career visioning combined with a long-term plan is important to give direction towards achieving overall success. Knowing where you are heading, setting clear milestones and retaining focus are all key attributes for success.

Equally, there must be a mechanism to periodically review plans to check relevance and make adjustments as circumstances can change. It is also true that short-term sacrifice can lay the foundations for future success.

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A manager uses people; leaders develop people. Managers are responsible for day-to-day operational performance, team motivation and achieving KPI targets. Managers deploys staff on day-to-day, weekly or monthly tasks and uses all the tools available to them to achieve these targets. Managers use motivation, target setting, direct intervention (discipline), enforcing company polices and creating a performance culture. Everything is geared towards achieving targets are uses many different tactics to ensure each employee performs. KPI reports, performance reviews and direct accountability for hitting targets means there is less focus on developing people.

Leaders on the other hand have to ensure succession plans are in place. There is greater emphasis on developing leaders of the future through talent acquisition and identifying high potential employees through talent management. Benefiting from a proven track record, subject matter expertise and decision-making knowledge base, leaders are in a great position to pass on knowledge, share expertise and develop high potential employees. Coaching, mentoring and leadership development is critical for developing highly capable executive leaders of the future. Best leaders develop future leaders through shared learning, coaching and mentoring. Allowing others to flourish through leadership is an important trait for executive leaders to have.

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A manager knows how it is done; a leader shows how it is done. This is a distinct difference between a manager and a leader. Managers are expected to know how to make day-to-day decisions affecting operational performance within their functional remit. Effective managers often have a good knowledge base, understanding of team dynamics and know how best to achieve targets.

Leaders are expected to lead by example. Inspiring, motivating and passing on knowledge (know how) to others within the organisation is crucial. Achieving results, getting things done and giving important direction is vital to get everyone working towards common goals. Leaders build a proven track record over a long period of time so coaching, mentoring and sharing knowledge by building the capabilities of others is an important part of creating leaders of the future.

Leaders become leaders because they have often learnt from others, been shown the ropes or have learnt from past mistakes. Leading by example, demonstrating skills in a wider executive leadership context and delivering results shows people how it is done, but also provides a role model for success. Role models are important within business because they clearly show others how to do things through their actions, decisions and people engagement skills.

Learning positive behaviours, taking direction from leaders and being willing to be shown how to do things can be beneficial over the long-term. Be open-minded about learning from someone with more experience, proven leadership capabilities and subject matter expertise as they can provide valuable insights on how to become a better leader.

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A manager 'places blame for the breakdown' whereas a leader 'fixes the breakdown'. The difference here lies with the perceived level of responsibility and empowerment levels rather than individual management capabilities. For instance, a manager may have a limited operational or functional remit, so may be unable to directly influence other areas of the business to fix a breakdown outside of their immediate functional area (therefore needs escalation).

Equally, if the breakdown lies with a member of their own team, an operational process or is down poor operational performance, it is expected the manager tracks down root causes. Often they place 'blame' on another area of the business because they are not empowered enough to directly solve or 'own' the problem given day-to-day constraints of their role. Other issues may simply be totally out of their remit (i.e. corporate governance; industry regulators; legal compliance). Only by escalating further can they expect a permanent fix, so it is inevitable to place the blame somewhere else.

A leader is empowered to do whatever it takes to fix a problem. They are empowered to bring together relevant expertise, make strategic investments and target key actions right across the business. The rationale is to put in place a permanent fix for a problem, often with cooperation from operational / functional management. Taking ownership, driving forward change plans and leading strategic initiatives are what leaders are hired for. Very often operational issues are not found in isolation so require additional investment or an integrated approach with executive leadership backing and wider benefits realisation.

'Fixing the breakdown' down to organisational dysfunction may include technology renewal programmes (process automation), organisational development (restructuring roles and responsibilities) or strategic transformation (i.e. major change programmes) for example.

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A manager says 'I' a leader says 'we' is another ways of distinguishing between managers and leaders. A manager is accountable for operational performance in a particular area of the business, tending to be more focused on achieving day-to-day, weekly and monthly targets. There is not so much cross-over with different functional areas with the manager being ultimately (solely) responsible for their own area, team or remit. This is probably where the 'I' comes from. There is functional ownership, line management (team) responsibility and personal accountability for day-to-day operational management activities.

Meanwhile, leaders tend to have a different approach as they will impact on the wider organisation as a whole. Leadership decision-making often impacts on different functional areas, so they need to bring together directors, functional heads and senior managers to gain cooperation, commitment and consensus. Leaders often rely on information, analysis and management reporting provided by director-level and senior management reports to understand the 'bigger' picture for taking informed strategic decisions. There is also the ability to use this consensus and ultimately translate this into coherent strategy (vision).

The 'we' element involves leaders bringing together different skill sets, subject matter expertise, business intelligence and knowledge base for building decision-making consensus to achieve common goals or corporate objectives. Again, there is a lot of relationship building, stakeholder management and influencing skills to ensure business optimisation, maximum benefits realisation and decisions taken are the right ones for the organisation. Effective leaders rarely make important strategic decisions in isolation, so they need the 'we' element otherwise this can lead to conflict, inaction or discord (lack of harmony) at board-level. It is crucially important to build consensus at the highest level and engage senior stakeholders within organisations.

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A manager 'inspires fear' whereas a leader 'generates enthusiasm'. Moving onto other manager versus leader attributes. Referring to the picture, another difference between management and leadership is a very interesting one.

A manager has to maximise (optimise) day-to-day productivity, operational performance and team coordination to get the best out of employees. Line management involves day-to-day team motivation, target setting, problem-solving and overseeing operational processes. This is often within a very narrow context or functional remit to achieve monthly performance objectives. It means there is an element of 'performance management' in cracking down on under-performance through team supervision (direct reports), regular performance reviews, tight operational controls and introducing specific KPI metrics to measure staff / team outputs. The 'fear factor' for employees comes from not meeting agreed KPI targets (performance expectations), having a poor manager / employee relationship or there are individual staff issues undermining performance.

Meanwhile, a leader needs to 'generate enthusiasm' right across different functional areas to gain cooperation, meet corporate objectives and achieve a long-term vision. Again, this goes down to high-level influencing skills, relationship building and stakeholder management to build momentum and motivation towards achieving specific objectives. Without momentum, motivation or clear strategic direction it is difficult to generate enthusiasm. Everyone must be focused on achieving common goals. This often relies on carefully managing company culture, effective internal / stakeholder communications and building a sense of empowerment, togetherness, inspiration and vision.

This is a difficult one to assess the differences. One side there appears to be an element of conformance and compulsion forcing employees to achieve daily, weekly and monthly targets. It is perhaps this compulsion element that strikes 'fear' into employees because of implications for not achieving performance targets. Alternatively, leaders generating enthusiasm can be as much down to  individual leadership personality alongside empowerment, having a strong sense of strategic direction (focus) and articulating a clear vision, whilst also building added momentum to generate even greater enthusiasm by inspiring employees to achieve more. A lack of enthusiasm can impact organisations negatively.

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Managers rely on authority / leaders rely on goodwill. Some additional insights on the difference between leaders and managers. Managers depend on authority to deliver results. This may be a reflection of a more day-to-day operational environment directly impacting on employee performance, staff motivation and team dynamics. It is true to say that managers tend to focus on operational performance and related business planning disciplines. There may be a level of strategic input from functional managers but this is often limited.

Conversely, leaders rely on goodwill. Goodwill is normally fostered through relationship building, direct influencing skills and excellent stakeholder management. There is a much stronger focus on delivering a long-term strategy, roadmap and vision, so day-to-day operational performance is not so much part of their direct remit. It is much more thinking about the 'bigger' picture and placing everything into a wider organisational context or global operating environment.

Decisions made by leaders often impact the whole organisation rather than and any given functional area. Therefore, goodwill is massively important as managing board relationships, dealing with strong personalities, gaining cooperation and getting people to follow a vision. This can only be done with exceptional personal skills, proven leadership qualities and strong (proven) reputation gained over a period of time. Goodwill leads to cooperation. It is an important element of successful leadership.

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Coaching and mentoring employees is one critical aspect of leadership. It is often the ability to pass on knowledge, understanding and insights to high potential employees that helps to bring through leaders of the future. Benefiting from such insights makes for better decisions because executive leaders have often learnt from their mistakes and can pre-empt decisions or anticipate likely actions of others, particularly in a globally competitive environment. Executive leaders will also have had a direct impact on the wider organisation as they often make strategic decisions affecting entire companies or business divisions.

This is why is it always worthwhile to have an executive mentor on board to give decision making insights, tools and skills for weighing up the alternatives and making shrewd (informed) decisions. An executive mentor can be someone within the same company, external to current employer or there are companies specialising in executive mentoring. It is about building up a knowledge base, improving decision-making awareness, challenging existing thinking and being capable of taking important decisions.

Benefiting from impartial advice based on real life experiences from others can help improve decision-making capabilities. Tapping into such insights, experience and knowledge base can prove invaluable, especially as career-minded individuals are looking to enter the world of executive leadership where expectations, inter-dependencies and stakeholder relationships are vastly different from lower levels within the organisational hierarchy.

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Are you a leader or a manager? Characteristics of both with subtle differences between leadership and management. This is so true! Speaking to many executives the leadership characteristics certainly come through much stronger.

Overall, effective leaders have stronger emotional intelligence in terms of how they behave and interact with people through engagement and appropriate use of 'soft skills'. Leaders are not afraid to take tough decisions (this is part of their DNA), but equally they have a strong set of personal and soft skills to motivate and inspire rather than coerce or force employees to do things.

Responding to the graphic, we have put our own spin on leadership characteristics...

- Coaching / mentoring high potential employees
- Builds goodwill and consensus across the board
- Generates enthusiasm (inspiration / motivation)
- We can achieve this together (more inclusive approach)
- Fixes problems and often has a troubleshooting mentality
- Shows how it is done - leads by example and learns from mistakes
- Develops people (as mentioned above, sign of an excellent leader)
- Gives credit by praising, recognising and rewarding for excellence
- Asks people to help rather than demand it (a softer approach)
- Let's go implies going on a journey to see what we can achieve together

Fundamentally, the sign of an excellent leader is someone who allows people to develop through them rather than always look over their shoulder with a 'defensive' mentality typical of many senior managers.

Work needs to be done on personal branding awareness and reinforcing positive behaviours that are characteristic of leaders if senior managers are looking to make the jump into the executive leadership arena.
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