What Leaders Have That Managers Lack

Last Updated Sep 7, 2010 6:58 PM EDT

When does a manager transform into a leader? According to two recent posts on the subject on separate Harvard Business School Web sites, the answer might be this:

A leader is born when a manager (or anyone, for that matter) learns to look inward and assess and build on one's own strengths and weaknesses, moral compass, and understanding of right from wrong.

Here's how leadership expert Bill George, on the faculty at HBS, looks at the need for executive introspection, what he terms "mindful leadership."

"Mindfulness is a state of being fully present, aware of oneself and other people, and sensitive to one's reactions to stressful situations. Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles."
In a blog post on HBR.org called For a Better Career Outlook, Look Inward, leadership consultant Sharon Daniels observes:
"There are times at work when we tend to be on autopilot, repeating what we do without asking why. At these times we need to step back and reflect on our habits. A look inward will not only give you a better knowledge of what makes you tick, but will help you understand others' motivations better. It also will help you make sounder intuitive decisions, a highly valuable ability these days when change is accelerating and you have to act without having all the information you want."
So next time you wonder what you need to become a great leader, stat by looking for answers within rather than from the latest management book or seminar.

(Photo by Flickr user Idhren, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.