When It Comes to Learning, Managers Should Take the Lead

Written by
Randy Emelo

Be a Leader for Workplace Mentoring Programs

In my opinion, managers have gotten a bad rap, especially in articles and blogs that compare leaders versus managers; managers take on the role of multitasking villains and leaders become heroic visionaries.

In reality, we depend on our managers; they are the people keeping the balls in the air and the organization moving forward.  They help us coordinate people, processes, and projects and take charge of the day-to-day details necessary to achieve organizational goals.  Managers help execute against plans, drawing upon their knowledge of what’s worked in the past to help people produce results in the present.
Managers must adopt a leadership mindsetBecause they handle daily coordination and execution of tasks and activities, managers are not conditioned to think beyond the near future. They are busy; we’ve asked them to get x, y, and z done and manage people necessary to do so. As a result, we can hardly blame managers for not looking beyond the next two to three months or having a broader strategic vision for the company’s growth over the next three to five years.

The downside is that managers often suffer from myopia as a result of their short-term outlook. They aren’t accustomed to making large-scale changes (on their own and as a result of their own thinking), and if they do, these changes are often small and incremental. In general, when a person’s focus is targeted, like that of a manager, it strains their ability to look at the bigger picture, evaluate if processes are still effective, and to take more strategic actions. This leads to the perpetuation of outdated practices and the failure to consider better alternatives or new ways of accomplishing organizational goals.

But what if we could help managers blend their strengths with the longer-term vision of leadership?

Leadership, in my mind, is about exercising foresight or the ability to look into the future and decide what the organization needs to be doing today to get where they want to be in the future. Will we need more project managers? JavaScript developers? Sales representatives? You have to find out where your organization is headed, what skills and knowledge will be needed, and then prepare accordingly today to prep your workforce.  Leaders must also be agile so that they can change and adapt as new situations arise and future demands dictate. Remaining agile means heading in one direction, then stopping to evaluate where you are, and changing direction if you’re not getting the desired results. For managers, this is where asking “the hard questions” comes into play. You might ruffle someone’s feathers or create a small amount of disruption in order to avoid a huge and damaging disruption later.

Return on InvestmentFor example, if a training option isn’t working well, even if you’ve always done it that way, you will likely disrupt the team by suggesting a new option.  But that is exactly what you have to do!  Get out of the manager mindset of just controlling the deliverables, such as content creation and four-hour courses, if you know people don’t take them unless mandated. Instead, get into the leadership mindset of trying new and innovative methods and practices to make learning at your organization easier and more relevant. Push yourself to make more deliberate and long-term decisions to help keep the learning you are responsible for agile and relevant.

With this in mind, here are four steps you can take to help you think more like a leader.


Intentionally work with people who have different perspectives to help you better reflect constructively on the past, honestly evaluate present data or trends, and thoughtfully consider multiple future options as part of strategic vision.


Train yourself to see signs and patterns in the past, and even in the present, that can indicate actions for the future. Look for help in honing this skill by collaborating with peers and learning from them.


Consider the long-term implications of present trends and keep an eye out for unexpected challenges and unexploited opportunities. Look beyond current competitors and current products to see where trends are taking your market, and also scan the horizon for emerging technologies and practices that could impact your organization.


After identifying future opportunities, gauge the effort, resources and time required to exploit each opportunity, and combat each challenge in order to best understand the impact it could have. You can then create a workable plan, model or strategy in detail that you can begin to execute today to prepare you tomorrow.

Managers know how to get things done. Combine your ability to produce with a more leader-like, strategic mindset, and you get learning and training that will help propel your organization into the future.

What are your thoughts on the subject? How else can learning professionals help iterate our industry forward? Tweet at me using my Twitter handle, @remelo.

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