Many workshops, programmes and books written on the development of management and leadership qualities expound the importance of developing managerial leadership traits for success. Whilst programmes impart knowledge, skills and practice of management and leadership, and books provide theories and insights into developing leadership; it still leaves us with the eternal enigma – what really makes outstanding managers and leaders? Is it charisma? Is it intellect? Is it vision and belief? Or is it the accumulation of hard work in constantly driving to succeed and exceed expectations? defines management as ‘the organisation and coordination of the activities of a business in order to achieve defined objectives’. Activities in management include planning, organising, leading and controlling of resources, be it physical or people resources. These are the day-to-day tasks and roles that are expected of managers.

Leadership is ‘a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task’, says Wikipedia. Leadership is the act of leading with a compelling vision, and influencing people around us to support and achieve that vision.

The definitions above clearly outline the tasks and expectations of the roles carried by someone with the title ‘manager’ or ‘leader’. Many of us aspire to become managers and leaders. Whilst many succeed, there are others who fall by the wayside being weighed down by the expectations and responsibilities that such a title carries or they become carried away by the influence power of the title.

What then, is the key success factor that differentiates those who succeed, and those who do not?

Leap of Commitment

The first step towards managership or leadership is to genuinely accept the responsibility laid upon us to make a difference. This role progression is usually perceived as a performance related reward or perhaps recognition for certain qualities a person may possess, all of which could potentially contribute to business success.

However, a common mistake many supervisors make is that they promote a subordinate without taking the time to understand the person’s aspirations. Most of us would think that it is not unusual for people to aim for the stars. Success is about taking leadership. However, more often than not, Peter’s Principle occurs in organisations - a person is promoted to his or her level of incompetence. Individual contributors who have excelled based on their achievements and merits are promoted to managerial responsibility where they struggle to perform. The skill sets and competencies that have served them technically well thus far, do not equip them to perform similarly as people managers.

There are instances in talent feedback conversations that some are not really interested in these responsibilities. They would prefer to be experts managing their own area of expertise than be managing or leading other people. Supervisors need to recognise this or else they lose certain talents without realising it.

To transition into the role of manager or leader, we first need to ACCEPT the role – take it, not because we have to do it, but because we WANT to do it. Not because it’s the natural career progression in any successful corporate career path (with of course a bigger pay check), but because more importantly, it is an aspiration.

This leap of commitment to undertake the responsibility as a manager or leader is the crucial tipping point. Unless and until we take this leap, our managerial or leadership careers may not be able to take that step forward even if we carry the ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ title.

Once we have taken the leap of commitment, now it’s time to use our heads, hearts and guts.

Managing With The Head

Managing is the act of planning, organising, leading and controlling people, tasks, resources, etc. Hence the ‘Head’ is needed in thinking through, analysing, planning and setting performance measures for our team.

Competencies at this stage of management involve analytical and creating thinking, problem solving and decision-making, self-motivation and drive to achieve, effective enforcing, persistence and resilience, etc. – all task-oriented traits that contribute to a person’s performance in managing the team like a well-oiled engine.

Leading With The Heart

To lead, we must ensure that people are willing to follow us. If there is no one following, then how can one lead? To compel followers, we must establish a vision and objective, a common goal that everyone in the team work towards.

Achieving is no longer a self-effort, but a team effort. At this stage, we cannot use the ‘Head’ and force the team to follow us if they do not believe in a particular vision. Great leaders have willing followers who believe in them. To persuade people to a greater objective, we need to appeal to the ‘Heart’. As Simon Sinek says, it needs to be a compelling ‘Why’ message, and not a ‘What’ message.

Competencies at this stage of leadership involves creating impact and influence with the team, leading and energising people, devoting our time to coaching and developing others.

Inspiring From The Gut

A person who ‘has guts’ is one who has the courage or fortitude for something. A person who uses gut feelings uses his or her personal, intuitive feeling or response. To inspire from the gut appeals to the underlying values that a person carries within himself or herself that provides the fortitude and a very personal conviction towards a cause that he or she believes in.

To inspire people to the direction we want to move them to, we must be able to provide a compelling and appealing vision that is achievable to them, and the way to go about achieving it. In that, we need to have strong personal values and life themes in which we base our inspirations from.

If this conviction does not come from within us, the inspiration will not come across as genuine to others. Our behaviours will not be consistent. Hence inspiring from the gut is the essence through which consistent influencing of the vision and direction that comes from within what the person values, is translated into an inspiring vision that others may want to follow.

There are many examples of truly inspirational leaders who have achieved significance through the values and causes they promote - Mother Theresa - humanitarian, Mahatma Gandhi – non-violence struggle for freedom, Nelson Mandela – championing anti-apartheid, Martin Luther King – civil rights movement, and closer to home, we have, Tunku Abdul Rahman – the father of Malaysia’s independence, Malaysia’s past Prime Ministers and many of Malaysia’s corporate leaders.

Competencies at this stage of inspirational leadership are the values that we carry with us, our personal brand, our thinking and our beliefs.

The Management Leadership Journey

Taking the first step into our management leadership journey takes commitment. As managers, we are faced with heavy expectations and responsibilities. Some of us take on the challenge, and ace the managerial test; some of us struggle at first and pass many hurdles before we get there; and some of us may face a constant dilemma of “Is this role what I really want?”.

To be committed, we will need to explore our life themes, values and wants. Supervisors will need to understand the expectations of members of their team. To manage and lead, we will need to have the management and leadership competencies discussed. This full package of the commitment and management leadership competencies will support us toward career success.

We will pass all these phases in our managerial career development progression. Take courage to make the first step and the leap of commitment to take these on, and then use your head, heart and gut to manage, lead and inspire. All the best in achieving a fulfilling management leadership journey!


Article written by: Lai Wai Lin, AMIM, Member of MIM;  Published in MANAGEMENT Vol 52 No. 3 Malaysian Institute of Management