Business Leadership: Warning Signs of Struggle

by Sarah Jones, Personal & Career Coach

Business leadership is not a role that comes naturally to everyone and most people who occupy senior positions today will have spent years gaining the experience and expertise as well as the considerable interpersonal skills needed to fulfil such a function. Leaders have reached the top of the ladder, whether they have climbed it in one company or across several, and at some point, they have made the transition from manager to leader. Some are able to make this shift without undue stress, others find it a struggle. It’s instructive to look at both the process of transition and the experience of leadership itself, because both roles can be taken for granted while being misunderstood by many on the outside.

From Manager to Leader


These are two distinct disciplines. They are not exclusive and a good manager can be an equally good leader, but this is not automatic. In both situations, the individual is a decision-maker on whose judgment the prosperity of the company relies. However, for a manager, the responsibility consists in the planning, co-ordination and organisation of activities and tasks within the enterprise. It is a form of leadership but it is largely supervisory within the wider context of the objectives and procedures of the business.

A leader may have a similar structure of subordinates reporting to them but performs the important function of making, measuring and implementing policy. A leader must take the wider and longer view, focusing on broad strategies for the company’s development over one, two or even five-year periods. They must have soft skills as well as technical know-how. Shorter-term operational matters must be delegated.

Managers can prepare for leadership in a number of ways. One is to get out of the habit of micromanaging. If this is ever desirable at all, it certainly does not sit well with a leadership role. They will get lost in a forest of detail, unable to maintain the holistic vision necessary. Instead, they must learn to trust employees and give them the freedom to act on their own initiative, freeing themselves to concentrate their attention elsewhere.

Communication is important for managers but if they are to become leaders, they have to refine their skills so that they are able to impart the right messages in the right way. Management is often more about instruction, whereas leadership is about ideas and direction.

Managers and leaders both need to be able to give constructive feedback to employees but for managers, this will more often be project-specific while for leaders it tends to be more an assessment of overall performance, and will frequently be augmented by input from managers.

On the way to becoming a leader, a manager needs to develop skills of self-reflection and an ability to look forward positively rather than dwelling on past events. Post mortems are the concern of managers, who may frequently hear the request from leaders: ‘don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’.

A good leader will have an abiding concern for diversity and inclusivity, recognising that a company is only as good as the people who contribute to it and talent is to be found anywhere. A culture where people of disparate backgrounds and experiences work together is genuinely productive and harmonious.

Lonely at the Top

Leaders are not superheroes. Once they’ve made it to the top, they can find it remarkably challenging. There can be a sense of isolation which is sometimes unavoidable but never helpful. Leaders must not feel it shows weakness to let other people in. Apart from anything else, if they have any sense of self-doubt or inability to shoulder their responsibilities, feeling alone will do nothing to alleviate this. Too many leaders struggle on in silence, unwilling to ask for help or support, but humility and self-awareness are positives that should not be resisted.

Because the proverbial buck stops with them, leaders may be afraid of letting down colleagues or being exposed in the business community as a failure. They may be uncomfortable with the possibilities of confrontation or conflict, or overwhelmed with their workload. The overriding message to leaders who feel any of these things is to identify and acknowledge weaknesses then leverage them to find the positives. The cloak of seniority commands respect provided that it is worn in a spirit of honesty, integrity, consistency and strength.

Ultimately leadership is about belief. In your team, in your company, in your vision, in your ideas and in yourself. It’s about having the courage to fail and the wisdom to recover.

About the author

Sarah Jones is a seasoned personal, life, business and career coach. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable drive to help others find their happiness, she founded her successful coaching business to help people find purpose, meaning and direction in their lives and careers. Sarah has been through many of the roadblocks and challenges she coaches on, herself so is able to empower others to identify and reach their full potential.

She works with individuals on a one-to-one basis for personal and career coaching; and both on a one-to-one and group basis for businesses. She has also devised several  programmes to help people personally to reach their desire potential. Sarah is also a regular speaker and media commentator.

To find out more about Sarah’s coaching programmes for individuals, executives, teams or organisations visit: www.sarah-j.com.