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On Leading People

Leading and managing people are two different things. I don’t think people, as individuals, can be managed. Not at least literally, but they sure can be led.

That said, leading or managing people requires a certain level of skillet and competency that one must be aware of before stepping into the role. Note that the competencies are quite different from the ones needed to lead projects. While there isn’t a significant carryover from the previous stage, the Team Building and Customer Service competencies play an essential role in the leader’s development in this stage. 

Here are the critical competencies for leading people: 

  1. Human Capital Management: Builds and manages a workforce based on organizational goals, budget considerations, and staffing needs. Ensures employees are appropriately recruited, selected, appraised, and rewarded; takes action to address performance problems. Manages a multi-sector workforce and a variety of work situations.
  2. Leveraging Diversity: Fosters an inclusive workplace where diversity and individual differences are valued and leveraged to achieve the vision and mission of the organization.
  3. Conflict Management: Encourages creative tension and differences of opinions. Anticipates and takes steps to prevent counter-productive confrontations. Manages and constructively resolves conflicts and disagreements.
  4. Public Service Motivation: Shows a commitment to serve the public (the people). Ensures that actions meet people’s needs; aligns organizational objectives and practices with shared interests.
  5. Developing Others: Develops the ability of others to perform and contribute to the organization by providing ongoing feedback and by providing opportunities to learn through formal and informal methods.

As you can tell, this stage is quite advanced from the preceding (two) stages and for a substantial reason — leading people isn’t for everyone. Even the best individuals performers at the previous levels fail at this level because what worked there doesn’t apply here.

Leader’s ought to focus on competencies 1 and 5 from the list above to develop the high-performers for this stage. There’s a reason why leadership succession is a great deal in successful companies. They understand that “what got you here, will not get you there.” 

Another aspect to note is that this stage requires one to deal and manage conflicts within the team. It’s an essential competency that most people don’t pay much attention to but they must. Now, this also means one has to learn to be neutral and unbiased, which comes with time. Provided they know what’s expected from them at this stage of leadership development.  

If you’re at this level, you need to be honest with yourself. How will you rate yourself for each of the competencies above on a scale of 0-4? If your answer is anything less than 2, you need to seek a mentor or a coach right away. Why? You can’t wing your way through this level and hope to perform well in the next. 

Again, no one expects you to have mastery of these skills right at the outset. But over time, that should be one of your goals. Most leaders I’ve interacted with don’t even understand the core competencies needed to succeed at this level, let alone know if they’re doing a great job, to begin with. 

I guess now you know why I believe leading and managing people are two different things? You can get by with working people but never succeed if you aren’t willing to step up as a leader. And that requires you to know what does it take for one to be an outstanding leader at this level. 

P.S. You can read more about the 5 Leadership Competencies here.