Being a Manager Ain’t Easy, It’s Your Turn: Calling All Leadovators

Here’s an ugly exchange I overheard between two well-dressed office workers who were waiting on their lunch orders at my favorite fast-casual spot:

Dude #1: “He just doesn’t get what we are dealing with. He’s locked in his office, yapping on the phone and doing God knows what while we’re getting rolled under the bus for every single thing that goes wrong.

Dude #2: “Yeah, while he gets all the credit for the stuff that goes right. I’m so sick of it. He’s the worst boss I’ve ever had.”

Listening in reminded me that if there’s anything harder than being an employee in corporate America today, it’s being a manager. Whatever employees are up against — tight deadlines, staff shortages, information overload, lack of funding, lack of knowledge and training, etc. — managers are pinned against it, too. And their problems are compounded by the fact that they can’t stand at the lunch counter and vent about it because they have to lead the troops.

This isn’t a post about how managers are awesome and we should love them more. We know that many of them suck. In fact, a Gallup study from a few years back determined that companies fail an astounding 82 percent of the time to select a managerial candidate with the right talent for the job.

Nope, this is a post about the hordes of managers out there who step up every day, love what they do, are good at and want to get better. They want to build teams of happy, engaged employees, they want to hit their targets, and they WANT to do more with less without losing their minds (or their great employees).

Executive coach and author Victor Lipman wrote in Forbes that effective managers need to possess the understanding of a psychologist, the authority of a law enforcement officer, the meticulousness of an accountant, the tact of a diplomat and the inspirational skills of a sports coach. “Management is just plain difficult,” Lipman said. “Why?  Because the diverse skill sets that go into making someone an effective manager are not always easy to find rolled into one person.” (Sounds like a unicorn of sorts.)

I would add one more skill to Lipman’s list: innovation.

All enterprises, regardless of size, require leaders who can quickly and confidently lead innovation — or as I define it, “change that matters.” Nothing stays the same, so the need to adapt and innovate is fundamental to success. Innovation is not just a thing to be done quarterly, annually or within three to five years. It is a constant. Innovation should be like breathing; it happens automatically without thinking about it. The charge of the 21st-century leader is to operationalize innovation and change, not merely manage it. Those that embrace their responsibility will be forever known as the Leadovator who saved the enterprise.

To be clear, innovation as a constant isn’t meant to convey some new paradigm of chaos. What I mean is that Leadovators can never rest on their laurels. You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you complete a big project — that urge to lean back in your chair, kick your feet up on the desk and bask in your own brilliance? That’s exactly when you need to turn the page and start on the next chapter. Things move fast; you’ve got to move faster.

I love what environmentalist and author Paul Hawken says about leadership: “Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.”  Without a doubt, being a Leadovator is both an art and a science, and it weaves together all of the concepts I’ve been sharing with you along this journey.

What will it take for you to transform from a good manager to a great Leadovator? Start by shedding your conventional ways of thinking and doing so that the seeds of innovation have a place to plant themselves. Shake off the status quo and encourage your team to come up with creative solutions — then actually implement those ideas. Work smarter not harder by eliminating time-sucking tasks, information overload, redundancies and inefficient processes. Listen to your millennials AND your veterans. Establish an environment of trust and support and value. When you have to be the bad guy, do so with the all the kindness you can muster. And above all, just be a decent human being.

An effective, well-respected 21st-century Leadovator must accept the risk, uncertainty, and fluidity of today’s business landscape while empowering talent inside and across the matrix of stakeholders to deliver result-oriented innovations. It is not for the faint of heart or the fearful. It is, however, an absolute for successful leadership of the future.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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