Why managers need to be leaders

Hit Leader Hass Leadership, Management Leave a Comment

If you are a manager, you are looking to manage and deliver a project to completion. That project has people who are involved in doing the work. Those people will rely on you, their manager, to direct them and show them the way and in a lot of cases, their success in the team and organisation will depend on you. The opportunities you push their way, how much you empower them and how well you cater to their needs and motivate them. As a manager you have a responsibility to your people, to care about them personally, to take an interest in them, their development and their success.

I am Prince2 Practitioner certified. This is a great certification and provides a great foundational management process that can be adapted to any project. Personally, I have found it extremely useful. However, I believe as managers, we spend too much time on processes and management skills and not enough time on people and people skills. Prince2 focuses on process, not people – and although the process is important to a well-oiled project, I believe people are the key to a successful project. The best managers I have had have been good with people, have taken an interest in me and have sought to help me grow. These managers weren’t just managers, they were leaders. If you manage, you need to lead.

Regular contact and personal interest

If you cannot get to know all the people or take an interest in all the people in your team at a personal level then your team is too big. You need more management levels or more managers. The only way to understand your team, their needs, their goals and the pain points is to spend enough time by their side talking to them. The odd email or nod as you walk into the office will not suffice. When you don’t spend this time getting to personally understand your team, you will start to assume. You will assume you know how to make their lives better, give them the development you think they need and you will assume you know what motivates them. These assumptions will make managing your team and the project a lot more difficult. If you understand your team, you will be able to manage more effectively. If you understand your team, you will know what motivates them and how to lead them to successfully complete the project.

Management is heavily focused on reaction. You react to issues and you fight the fires as they arise. There is some proactive thinking but it’s usually quite limited to planning and risk management. This mindset can creep into the way managers lead their people. As a manager, it is easy to fall into the trap of just dealing with your team when issues arise and when conflict happens. It is sadly quite normal that a manager takes no proactive steps in caring for the team members at a personal level. If you work in a proactive way with your team, you will find that they will be more resilient to issues as they arise. Set up regular contact with your team, chat with them and if possible have a face to face regularly.

To really be effective at understanding your team you need to focus on how you use emotional intelligence to empathise with them and communicate in an effective way. To read more about how you can do this, read this post.

People, not process

A project is a time-boxed piece of work. A successful project is a time-boxed piece of work that meets a specific goal. In order for a project to be successful, the right work needs to be done, in the right order, in the right way within project constraints. This work is done by people, your team. If your team lack motivation, the work won’t be done right, it won’t be done to time and it won’t be done to a high enough standard. If your team don’t feel safe and hide issues you will be oblivious to any project issues until it’s too late. If your team don’t think you care about them or their development they may very well move elsewhere. The people are the driving force for a successful project. There are certain things you can do as a project manager to reign in a project and steer it so it is more likely to succeed – but there is nothing more impactful and important that you can do than building confidence, safety, motivation and growth in your team. Your team drives the project, not you. If you take the wheel, the project will only ever be as good as you. If you are able to entrust your team to take the wheel – the project will be a collaboration that is more likely to succeed. Check out this infographic from snacknation.com:

Employee happiness infographic

Learn more about what it means to be a leader

Yes, leadership is a skill that you can learn and develop over time. A lot of managers are thrust into management positions without the right training – sure they will be taught how to manage via a process but they aren’t taught how to lead people, how to engage with and effectively communicate and collaborate with people as their manager. If this is you, make it a priority to get some training.

It is not easy to change your mindset from a pure delivery focus to a people focus, but it is a change well worth investing in. If you want your projects to have an increased likelihood of success by growing a motivated, safe, growth-orientated team – take an interest in your people. If you are managing, you should be leading.

As a manager, you have a duty to those you manage. You have a duty to engage them in meaningful work, inspire and motivate and to help them grow in the direction they want to. An interest in people will help you be more successful in your project and organisation, but don’t just take my word for it…

  • Greg Schott, the CEO of Mulesoft is a manager that personally interviews every candidate that applies to work there. Greg gets to know people on a personal level – what drives them, what motivates them, what their goals are. Do you care about those things?
  • Todd Etter, the chief collaboration officer of The Motley Fool is a manager who uses games to inspire and engage his employees. Todd has found an exciting way to engage and inspire his teams – he actually took the time to investigate and try it. Just because it’s fun, doesn’t make it wrong! In fact, having fun is a great way of building a relationship and rapport with your team.
  • Bob Chapman, the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, is a manager who measures “heart count” at his company to look at how engaged and happy the employees are. Do you care how happy or fulfilled your teams are? Do you actively look to identify their pain points and help them?
  • Scott Abel, the CEO of Spiceworks, is a manager who has something called “slices with Scott” where he orders pizzas for the whole company who then get to spend hours asking Scott any questions they want! Food is a good way to reward and incentivise but the most important aspect of this is that Scott is willing to be open and vulnerable with each and every single person in his organisation. Being open can help build trust which can help you build a close-knit team.

This LinkedIn article has a good set of leadership learning tools you may find useful.


As a manager you have a responsibility to your people, to care about them personally, to take an interest in them, their development and their success. The process can’t drive projects alone, you need people and if your people aren’t cared for, inspired or motivated you will struggle to find success with any projects you manage.

To be a manager and leader you need to be doing these 3 things:

  1. Take a genuine interest in people, their motivations, aspirations and pain points.
  2. People are the driving force for successful projects – make sure you are investing enough time with them regularly. Spend as much time and more focusing on your people than your processes.
  3. Learn more about leadership and what it means to be an effective successful leader. It’s a skill that you can learn and hone over time. You spent time learning your processes, so spend some time learning how to manage and engage with and inspire people through effective leadership skills.

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