Look below the surface at any successful business, and you’ll find a collection of capable and even extraordinary managers. While top leaders often gain the spotlight, every senior leader knows good managers make organizations go and grow. Why then does the focus on leader and leadership development regularly trump the attention and investment we make in supporting the growth and skills development of our managers?

In part, I perceive the answer to this question is because we’ve glorified one set of behaviors (leadership) and reduced another set (managerial) to second class. It’s visible in the books we publish, blog posts and articles we write and the programs we attend.

The Distracting Quest for the Secret to Great Leadership:

For the past few decades, we as a culture have been fascinated by this elusive entity known as the leader. We’ve been on a collective quest for what makes a great leader and how to create more of them. And while we can isolate the behaviors that seem to work, we’ve not readily created systems for replicating great leaders—in spite of the billions spent annually and collectively by firms on something called leadership training.

It turns out, building a pipeline of emerging leaders is not that simple. You can’t merely codify and train on the behaviors, turn the crank and expect effective leaders to emerge. It takes time, experience, exposure to different situations, and a great deal of coaching and reinforcement.

It’s Leader and Manager—Developing the Whole Professional:

It also takes a focus on developing the whole person or the whole professional.

Instead of being two different people—leader or manager— the behaviors essential to move our teams and organizations forward are component pieces of the whole person.

You’re a leader and manager. Or, a manager and leader. (After all, who wants a manager who cannot lead and a leader who cannot manage?)

In working with organizations to define what’s needed for and from those responsible for teams, projects, functions, units and of course, people, a consistent set of 4 macro ingredients emerge.

The 4 Main Ingredients of Effective Managers Who Lead:

  1. Operational agility—the ability to translate goals and priorities into actions and an ever-improving stream of the right outcomes.
  2. Strategic and critical thinking—the ability to simplify complexity and make sense out of ambiguity and then make decisions that move initiatives, teams, and organizations forward.
  3. Communication flexibility—the ability to recognize and adapt or flex to various communication situations and conditions and positively persuade others in the process.
  4. Leadership adaptability—the ability to adjust and adapt on the fly in changing conditions and in pursuit of supporting, motivating, and developing individuals and groups.

Strip out any single of those macro ingredients, and you have less than a whole manager, whole leader, or whole professional.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many organizations have done. They’ve stripped out the first three macro ingredients—those attributed to management—and preoccupied on the leadership component. We’ve ignored the need to actively help people grow as thinkers, communicators, and decision-makers.

And while those at the top of many organizational pyramids are sent away to executive education programs where the broader set of skills and behaviors are covered (leader and manager), for those operating close to where the work gets done, we allow them to run on instinct and auto-pilot. (I’ll reserve commentary for the moment on how we abuse and handicap our managers instead of supporting and developing them. Trust me, that post will be a rant.)

It’s time to invest more in developing the whole professional—manager and leader.

I’ve yet to encounter a successful firm where there aren’t hyper-connected, involved, motivated managers close to the work and close to the customers.

I see these individuals in the form of project managers who preside over creating all that is new in our organizations.

And the operations managers who work miracles by consistently doing more with less in the face of adversity.

And the engineering and development managers who unleash the creativity of so many to change our world and lives.

And so many others across different functions and initiatives.

And where I see managers killing it with high-performance outcomes from their teams and groups and functions, I see top leaders who recognize the importance of whole-person development.

Sadly, in my travels, these firms and managers are the minority. By choosing to not invest in developing the whole person, they are effectively opting out of a future place for their firms in a world filled with peril and promise.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you aspire to participate in your career and firm beyond the individual contributor role, choose to invest in yourself and cultivate your skills and abilities in the four core areas identified above. Attending that leadership workshop isn’t enough. You must seek out learning and development in all of the core ingredients.

If you are in senior management, take a fresh look at what you need from those in your organization to survive, adapt, reinvent, or level-up in a changing world and rethink where and how you invest in developing those who will handle this heavy lifting. And then rush to adjust your approach.

Art's Signature


Note from Art: for any professional interested in a powerful, practical approach to developing as a manager who leads, check out my program: High Performance Accelerator for Managers.

Image with text: High Performance Accelerator for Managers