Five Strategy Questions to Ask Today


Three Steps To Help You Transition From A Manager To A Leader

By April 14, 2015 No Comments

You’ll never guess what the CEO of Coca Cola, Muhtar Kent, carries around in his wallet.

Sure, like most of us, he’s likely got a few credit cards, pics of the grandkids and at least a little bit of cash (I mean, he did get paid just over $20M in 2014). But what makes the CEO unique, is that he also carries around a…

paint chip.


Yup, a red paint chip.

More precisely: Coca Cola red.

And wherever he goes, Kent pulls that chip out of his wallet to compare it to the Coke cans, signs and vending machines he sees – always making sure that the reds are precisely matched.

As he said in the Wall Street Journal, making sure that the color of a Coke is the same everywhere in the world is his responsibility.

He calls it “polishing the diamond.”


During my workshops people often ask: “What’s the difference between a great ‘leader’ and a great ‘manager’?”

My answer: The presence of uncertainty.

Managers execute; they get things done, when the strategy is set and metrics are clear.

Like Mr. Kent, they “polish,” “optimize” and/or “improve” something that already works.

Leaders, by contrast, make things happen when nothing is known, certain or guaranteed.

They create the path forward where none currently exists.

They move themselves, their teams and their organizations forward when variables, systems and outcomes are still very much un-clear.


In every organization the presence of both great leaders and great managers is essential to successful long-term achievement.

In fact, I’d argue that management expertise is a pre-requisite to leadership effectiveness.


Because so many of the characteristics of great managers including:

  • self-awareness
  • the ability to lead team achievement
  • the ability to motivate and inspire others
  • the ability to coach, among others

…help to establish the credibility upon which every leader depends as she transitions into a role where she is not just responsible for hitting targets, but for setting them as well.

That said, so many of the leader’s core competencies…

  • business acumen
  • influence
  • judgment
  • prioritization

….take a long time to learn.

The implication: If you hope to successfully transition from manager to leader, it’s time to begin the process.

For managers who aspire to lead, here are a few specific ideas to get you started on the transition from leader to manager:

  1. Identify role models

So often the difference between a leader who leaves a lasting legacy, and one who fails to do so, is in the details. There is no better way to learn how to lead than to model a current leader you respect; to watch and learn how they do the little tasks of leadership day in and day out.

Who are your leadership role models? The men and women who lead they way you want to lead?

What is that they do more of, less of, differently than everyone else?

Your first task is to identify these men and women. Next, make a list of the specific attributes and characteristics that you admire about them. Then, learn more.

If possible, build a relationship with them. If that’s not possible, do your homework. Research their life and career to learn as much as you can about how and why they do what they do.  Then use this intelligence to guide your own development choices.

  1. Build your tolerance for uncertainty

From Martin Luther King to Richard Branson, great leaders often differentiate themselves by their composure in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

As a rising leader, you can increase your tolerance for uncertainty by developing a list of great, “go-to” questions and get comfortable asking them. More often than not, the leader is the one asking the questions, as opposed to the one providing answers.

The hardest part of asking questions is, of course, the asking.

It’s mustering the courage to admit that you don’t know enough, yet. Having a list of great questions that will help move a process or conversation forward despite the presence of uncertainty or ambiguity, makes this process easier.


  1. Feed your mind

As Harvard Business School professor John Kotter writes, “leaders are responsible for taking the organization into the future…for finding..and exploiting useful opportunities.”

The ability to see that which others either can’t, or overlook, is the hallmark of a leader.

The ability to shape or set a new strategy, a new vision, for your team or organization requires deep knowledge. As author Seth Godin writes “in order to be able to think outside the box, you must know where the box begins and ends.”

The easiest way to identify the limits of “the box” is to spend time, every day, learning; feeding your mind.

My favorite sources of new food?

Books and podcasts. Conferences, workshops and seminars work great, too.

Practically speaking, commit at least 30 minutes a day to learning. In order to make that time even more valuable, make time at the end of each session to capture/write down one good idea and share it with at least one other person.

This reinforcement will help you to retain and better leverage this learning time.


Professor Kotter believes that a lack of leadership is not something to be taken lightly.

“At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.”

Case-in-point: the same article describing Mr Kent’s unique obsession over the color of Coca Cola’s cans and marketing materials goes on to share that the company expects to miss its performance targets in not only 2014, but also 2015.

If you want to make a transition from manager to leader, now is the time to get started building your skills and experience.

Your company – and our world – need you more than ever.

How would you define the difference between leader and manager? And what role are you playing today?

Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

More posts by Ben Sands