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The mistake that stops managers from being leaders

The Life: Tommy Weir says a leader isn't someone who does, but someone who leads others to do.

What matters to you, when it comes to results? The answer to this simple question begins long before you ever sit in the leader's chair or stand in their shoes.

The mindset that takes a leader into his or her first posting begins somewhere around the age of 15 or 16. Let me explain.

It is around that age when a student decides he or she wants to go to university. Obviously, mum and dad decided long before this that their beloved child should one day gain an academic qualification, but, for the potential student, the decision comes in the middle of the teenage years.

For this example, let's assume the future leader's name is Ahmad. Ahmad's tale is just a reflection of nearly every leader's mindset formation. This could be anyone, it may even be your story.

So, what happens when Ahmad decides he wants to go to university? His grades inevitably start to improve. And when this happens, what does everyone else do? They pat Ahmad on the back and say "congratulations".

Ahmad then applies for university and after a few months, he receives the email saying: "Congratulations Ahmad, you have been accepted." What do we do then? Again, we pat him on the back and tell him how proud we are of him. Who did the work - the teachers, parents, the university? No, Ahmad did.

A few months later, secondary school graduation comes and we throw a party for Ahmad celebrating his hard work, efforts and achievement. Only two or three years have gone by and we are already building a mindset that says that working hard gets results and getting results gets recognition.

This continues all through university. Ahmad works hard, his professors recognise it and he gets the result he wants - good grades. This goes on until graduation, when mum and dad throw another party for Ahmad. By now, we are six to seven years into building this mindset.

Next, Ahmad enters the workforce. He applies for a job, interviews and gets it. What happens? Again, we say: "Congratulations Ahmad. You deserve it."

The pattern continues over the coming years. Ahmad works hard, delivers results himself and gets recognised. First with a pat on the back by his boss (assuming he has a good one), next with a good performance rating, then with an increment change, another good performance rating, a grade change and another bonus.

Finally his company says: "Ahmad you have done such a great job, worked so hard, and delivered outstanding results. We want to make you a manager."

Guess what Ahmad does the next day? He continues doing what has brought him success - he delivers results himself because this is what matters to him. For more than 10 years, Ahmad has grown into an individual achievement machine.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that at all.

The only problem is that Ahmad is now supposed to be leading others who do this for him, instead of still doing it himself. And his company let him down. They set him up for future failure by not telling him or coaching him on how to lead.

When Ahmad's head hits the pillow at night he is thinking about the results that he delivered. Instead, he should be thinking about the results that he led his team to deliver. Instead of valuing his delivery, he should value his team's individual and collective contribution.

Few organisations consider this and consequently many have leaders who, like Ahmad, are trying to deliver success themselves rather than leading success. So, what matters to you - what you do or what you lead?


Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center



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