x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Do not mistake a manager for a leader

The Life: Mahesh Rao, an executive consultant who was recently in Dubai, discusses the crucial difference between managing versus leading an organisation through a challenging time.

Mahesh Rao, an executive consultant, says there is a big difference between managers and leaders. Jeff Topping / The National
Mahesh Rao, an executive consultant, says there is a big difference between managers and leaders. Jeff Topping / The National

When the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in Dubai wanted advice on fostering "transformational leadership" in its ranks, the group brought in Mahesh Rao. Mr Rao, an executive consultant from San Francisco, discusses differences between managing and leading.

How does a company turn around a bad situation?

If there's a crisis growing with a company that's not doing well - profits going down, revenue going down - then wouldn't it be nice to use that opportunity to actually clean up your structure internally? Oftentimes when you try to transform a company, one of the first, basic ingredients is everyone should rally around a common cause.

Who should be driving the efforts to take advantage of a crisis during a tough time?

Within the company, of course, the CEO is the leader. There's a big difference between managers and leaders. The problem is most people who have grown up to be leaders now, they come in [having] been managers, so they're attuned to being managers. Today, they're taking on the roles of leadership, and hence the sub-optimal leadership out there in industry - whether an SMB [small to medium business] or large. That's where fresh, new thinking has to be infused in - either bringing in new blood or someone has to walk them through how they need to learn to take risk.

How else do managers differ from leaders?

Most start-ups and mid-sized companies are financially in such turmoil; [they're] heads-down, looking at learning their operations and making their payroll happen. That is being a manager, not a leader. A leader is a risk-taker, one who sees further than other people - sooner than other people.

What else does a leader need to be?

Be able to be open to partnerships. It's all about ecosystem; it's not just about getting bigger slices of pie, but creating a bigger pie itself. For example, one of your rival companies may be doing really bad, and if so, they could be bought out cheaper than you would have otherwise. Instantly, you have a much bigger market share that would have cost you 10 times as much. Sometimes you don't even have to buy it; you can just form an alliance with complementary product offerings. This is being done by larger companies but [is] more [important] for small companies; they have limited resources.

At what point during a crisis should a leader make a move?

I think there has to be a well thought-out strategy of when to strike. It depends on your strengths and how well you know the competition. Are you in the industry and a front runner? What do they have that you don't, and can we get that by partnering? It's like a chess game.


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