Progression from Manager to a Business Leader

Managers rely on invention and leaders are eager to reinvent. For many managers a career move necessitates progression to a Business Leader, but the shift should be self initiated - a mental upgrade, and the role change will follow.


The Manager role tends to be more tactical, focused on delivery, execution, managing team productivity, retention etc. The shift to a business leader role involves learning new skills, cultivating new mind-sets, and changes in leadership focus.


Nothing happens without a plan, specially a change which requires shift at multiple levels. Ensure everything on the plan is connected back to the goals and has a direct business purpose, anything added which does not connect back to a goal tends to eventually fall off the list.

  1. Implement to Enable: Shift focus from just your team’s performance results and growth – to what would benefit your company – solve complex organisation problems.
  2. Tactical to Strategic: Transcend  from just focusing on how to implement organization strategy which impacts your function. Look at the larger picture, but maintain the ability to smoothly dive in to the details.
  3. Internal to External: From inward and downward focus to outward and upward focus. Engage your key stakeholders and customers.
  4. Command to Influence: Transition from managing by building circles of power to creating circles of influence. Inspire and mobilize others towards a shared goal.
  5. Arrange to Structure: Finally, transition from alignment of roles and responsibilities to Systems, Structure, Models and Design thinking - steps for a business leader to draw the future map.

Constantly expand your horizon to understand your company’s purpose, direction, key drivers, be conversant with all aspects of the business, ensure results, keeping a long-range perspective.


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In today’s globally dispersed organizations, working towards a common organizational objective and meeting market demands is challenging, especially when the same is delegated across multiple local teams each working on their own goals. Leaders play a key role in setting company culture, engagement & communication mode and workforce productivity to meet those goals.


Striking a balance between achievement of local unit and company goals is needed. Command and control leadership may cause proliferation of bureaucracy affecting communication between departments and employees, wherein larger organizational goals become subservient to departmental goals. Employees may feel encouraged to share less information, reject innovation due to fear of failure, and work against others losing sight of the overall company goals. This style leads to poor employee morale and low job satisfaction.


A Democratic leadership approach encourages collaboration by focusing on consensus building and leveraging workforce strengths, removing barriers to performance and empowering employees to further their career and face challenges. Such leaders, as mentioned in a WSJ article, adapt their style to meet the needs of their employees and the situation their company is facing.


A Daniel Goleman study at the turn of the 21st century says “a manager’s leadership style is responsible for 30% of the company’s bottom line profitability”. Affiliative leadership style can encourage team work to achieve common goals and is best used in situations where groups may be prone to work in silos or have communication barriers. It can emphasize the need to work together for the collective good of the company versus having adversarial relationships that hamper productivity.


An IBM Institute of Knowledge Based Organizations study found that trust is key factor to strong employee relationships and knowledge sharing and become operationally effective. Trust is benevolence based, wherein individuals do not intentionally harm each other and competence based, wherein they believe the other person is knowledgeable, improving communication. Both types of trust can exist independent of each other but promoting both is advisable as they support different organizational goals.   


Technological infrastructure that support communication and collaboration plus formal and informal networks (mentoring/buddy programs, luncheon meets, employee communities, etc) and learning interventions and an appraisal system that reinforces desired behavior can help create a more open environment with easy communication flow, trust development, knowledge sharing, idea generation to solve organizational problems.


The IBM IKO study underlined following three actions that leaders can take to build trust

  • Create a common understanding of the various operational activities, a shared language and a shared view of how work will be accomplished highlighting interlinkages.
  • Model behavior expected of employees by actively listening and encouraging them to communicate their concerns. Once employees see their leaders as trustworthy they will be more comfortable sharing with others.
  • Create avenues for team members separated by distances to interact regularly thereby building effective workplace relationships.

These actions can undercut silos, strained relationships or fear and create a culture of trust and sharing.

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Why Influence in Leadership is Better

A senior leader has the overall responsibility of organizational goals and maximizing shareholder value while navigating an increasingly dynamic economic and political environments and complex organizational structures. In case of CEO, there is the additional responsibility of managing the Board of Directors and provide information to them and build relationships with the Board such that they support organizational goals.

Striking a balance between exerting authority and influence is an important skill for leaders since they are confronted with situations where

  1. Part of their deliverables are owned by leaders who are not their direct reports
  2. Their own direct reports may be directly responsible for the agendas of other senior leaders

While senior leaders have formal authority to compel other leaders and direct reports to conform to their own goals, using ‘might’ need not be the only source of a leader’s power in an organization. Research increasingly indicates that leaders need to begin using their ‘influence’ to navigate successfully. Exerting authority or the command and control approach may lead to public conformance but loss of private commitment whether from a direct report, peer or stakeholder leading to their overall agenda being undermined in favor of others.

Why Influence?

Influence is the use of power to achieve results. Leaders can compel results using influence instead, which can have rational, social or emotional approach, basically affecting the others’ thoughts and behaviors or how they make decisions. Also leveraging on formal and informal networks within the organization is key to exerting influence.

How to establish Influence?

While leaders can still use their strength, knowledge and position in developing positive relationships with others, the key aspect of improving one’s influence is trust. Leaders must be regarded as trustworthy in order for them to enhance organizational effectiveness. In addition, earning the respect of managers and other leaders is also key to establishing influence. To earn respect, leaders must be seen as listening intentionally to both verbal and non-verbal cues plus be authentic and keep commitments. Trust and respect enhances leaders’ personal power and allows them to exert influence easily.

Study of Influence

Researchers compared the approaches of senior leaders of 2 British financial institutions to understand effect of influence on decisions within the organization. The study revealed that leaders of one organization effectively used the following three skills to influence the larger agenda of the company.

  1. Understand business and demonstrate expertise with useful tools that help others do their job better.
  2. Ask for others’ involvement in creating tools that are used across the organization taking their sign off on their usability and usefulness.
  3. Have a seat on the decision table; attend meetings where important decisions are made using the platform to promote the agenda of their own team and providing information to support same.

In contrast the leaders of the other organization had limited influence on the agenda of their company as they did not:

  1. Demonstrate business understanding
  2. Translate their agenda to the larger agenda of the company and hence the reports created by leaders here were considered as not useful and regarded with skepticism.
  3. Work with others and build a network around their agenda

Thus, position and authority can be used to demand things from others, but creating a network of support will advocate your agenda to others and is key to influencing the behavior of others.

Finally, while in increasingly matrix organizations a positive approach to exerting influence is best, at times authority may also need to be exerted. Just like adapting leadership styles to different situations, a leader should be able to adapt style between authority and influence to suit different organizational climates. 

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“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.”

– David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot

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10 Steps to Creating a Trusting Culture to foster Superior Performance

Leaders who inspire trust to enhance their ability to deliver extraordinary results on a sustained basis. The cornerstone of effective leadership is building trust – with one’s team, customers, suppliers, shareholders, community and all other stakeholders. Stephen R. Covey puts in the value of trust very effectively in these lines, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

In today’s discussion, I have put together a few basic principles of building trust. Putting these into action in our daily lives can help us create trust with our leaders and our team members.  

Building trust with your Leadership & Critical Stakeholders

Demonstrate Integrity

Abraham Lincoln said “Great leadership is a product of great character. And that is why character matters.” Acting with integrity in thoughts and actions is necessary. A person who is honest, accepting and forthcoming with mistakes (should there be any) such that their leaders are not blindsided is entrusted with higher and critical responsibilities. People who stand by their word have an impeccable reputation that holds them good in trying times as stakeholders trust them to navigate the organisation through any crisis. Self-promotion or rumour mongering are detrimental to this cause.

Express freely

Leaders value people giving an honest, thought through and unbiased opinion to them that is for organisational good. Taking a firm stand based on logic helps build our credibility. Being pragmatic and ceding ground should a better approach be proposed is also essential..

Build Credibility

While it can take years to build credibility it can be lost in a matter of minutes by refusal to take responsibility. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial refusal to take ownership of the infamous passenger dragging incident at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in April 2017 led to widespread criticism and erosion of brand value that will be hard to recover from, apart from the loss of the opportunity of elevation to the position of Chairman for Munoz himself. Leaders who are self-driven, reliable, take initiative, strive to over deliver but definitely deliver what is committed and demonstrate ownership in the overall organisational interest, are ones who are valued by their stakeholders.

Alignment of Interest

Despite a bitter fight in the primaries to secure the Democratic Presidential nomination for the 2008 US elections, former President Barack Obama roped in his former rival Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State during his first term in office and the overall alignment of values, goals and mission allowed the two of them to forge a successful working relationship.

It is necessary for own and organisational interest that one aligns with its goals and gets to know their leaders and understands their thought process. Once aligned, it is easier to give it your all to achieve the mission. A dissonance is detrimental to self and organisation and it would bode well to move on in such circumstances. However, disagreements of the past can be set aside to forge mutually beneficial relationships which can be in the interest of the organisation as the Obama-Clinton partnership demonstrates.

Solution Orientation

Stephen R. Covey in his book The 7 habits of Highly Effective People mentions about ‘solution-selling’ being a key paradigm to business success. Leaders value people who are proactive and find solutions rather than point out problems. An individual with a problem-solving approach who is willing to provide multiple solutions with pros and cons thought through is valued as it helps leaders take quick decisions. It shows action orientation and leaders develop trust in our capability.

Building trust with your Team

Being Humble

eing a leader is not an entitlement but an opportunity to empower our people without building an ego. The most well-respected and effective leaders are ones who are humble and treat people fairly. Warren Buffet, the most successful investor in the world, is known to lead a fairly simple life without the trappings of luxury and has pledged 99% of his wealth to charity. Lazlo Bock, SVP – People Operations, Google espouses humility as one key trait sought in new hires as it helps create space for others to contribute while at the same time shows the leader’s willingness to learn.


Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the greatest leaders in modern history, was noted for his patient listening of others’ perspectives. Listening to multiple viewpoints helps us improve our knowledge of a situation thereby aiding better decision making besides gaining trust and respect from the team as they feel heard. Richard Branson says in a 2014 interview to Entrepreneur India, “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening. Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”

Support and Help

Steve Jobs was known to be a leader who surrounded himself with people whom he called ‘A’ players. Helping others succeed by sharing our knowledge, skills and ideas ultimately help us succeed. People smarter than ourselves are not a threat but an asset to our teams and our own success. A leader’s impact is enhanced when their decisions and actions are complemented by the superior competence of others in their team.

Building Credibility

“The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote: “Without a sense of fairness and justice, no leader can command and retain the respect of his followers."

Doing the right thing in any situation even if it may be detrimental is essential; in the long term, it will be beneficial. Leaders who are willing to share stories of their failures for others to learn from are more trusted by their team members than ones who only share success stories.

Model Behaviour

As a leader, it is critical to lead by example. Such leaders truly inspire and make people go the extra mile. Leaders who are willing to get their hands dirty are seen as inspiring. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the World.” As a leader, we are in glass houses and our behaviours are being observed keenly by our team and others. We need to model behaviours that we expect of others.


Action Takeaway

There is no denying the positive impact of building trust in our relationships. Are you modelling these behaviours and how can these benefit you? Here is one thing you can try out.

Identify from your personal or professional life 1-2 key relationships that have been difficult to manage. Critically analyse how you can use any or all of the above principles to build trust. Create a scratchpad where you can note a couple of key incidents on a daily basis where you applied some of the above principles and how the nature of relationship changed on sustained use of trust-building behaviours. I would love to hear your experiences.