Lead, Don’t Manage: An Interview with Sarah Singer-Nourie

I’ve been lucky, over the years, to meet some interesting people. A decade as a journalist, six years working in agencies, I’ve met colorful characters and more than my share of movers and shakers. But there’s a group of people who take up a special section in my brain, people who lead, people who operate with the first (and most important) thing to know is that anything is possible.

Sarah Singer-NourieSarah Singer-Nourie is one of those people. Speaker, coach, educator, she’s been challenging assumptions and breaking rules her entire life. To know her is to appreciate her energy. To have lunch with her is to spend two hours ignoring your food and finding yourself questioning all the things you assumed stood in your way – that is to say the things you put in the way. She’s a friend, yes, but unlike most friends, who seem content to let you be the version of you that you were when you first met, Sarah has expectations. She expects you to push yourself, to challenge your notions, to grow and expand into anything possible.

She’s got a new book out and, full disclosure, I helped a little with it. I wrangled some resources for her and kept her on schedule. But the content, the writing, the ideas, they are all Sarah’s. It’s a great book, a book that, like sitting with her over lunch, will leave you challenging your assumptions while providing you the tools to take your game up a few levels.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 8.19.05 AM“Tap Into Greatness: How to Stop Managing, Start Leading and Drive Bigger Impact” (Ripple Press, 2015) is out later this month and is available for pre-order now. I sat down with Sarah over lunch recently and talked to her about the book. What follows is an unedited transcript of her answers to my questions. She actually talks this way. She gets you to think this way.

And we should all be so lucky.

In the book, you make the distinction between managing and leading. If you had to, how would you sum up the difference?

This is not a management book, because people have way more influence than they think (especially when they’re in a “management” position) and can do much more than just manage.

Managing implies a base level of holding it all together without things falling apart. Like,

“He’s having trouble managing his temper,” or

“That’s a lot to carry- do you think you can manage it all?” or

“I’ve just got to manage my time and it’ll all get done.”

None of those are very inspired. Managing means it’s continuing to operate or run without disaster.

In this book, I’m starting from the assumption that the reader can already manage.

So I’m elevating the conversation to how they can really lead, which to me is about having impact on the way people think, define possibility, innovate through challenges and tap into their own talent.

Because they can.

I’m here to tell, show and teach you how you can have the kind of impact that unleashes awesomeness in the people around you every day… and that what it takes to do so isn’t rocket science. You’ve got a brilliant leader inside you, actually have the ability (whether you know it or not) to consistently inspire and tap the brilliant thinkers, performers, creators and team members inside those unsuspecting folks around you right now.

What’s the biggest mistake people make when they are put into a leadership position?

Thinking that leading is just about doing what they were doing before, but bigger. It’s not.

Excelling in your domain of expertise is way different than leading others in doing it. Leading is really a completely different thing, which is completely learnable, but not always natural, and usually not taught, but just expected.

We have a tendency to take people who are really skilled at something and unintentionally move them away from doing that something. We want to make their impact bigger, so we promote them to management or leadership of that something. A talented designer becomes a creative director, where they no longer design, but instead manage people who might not have talent anywhere close to what they have. A gifted engineer is promoted to lead younger engineers. It happens in every industry, in every kind of job. And, in a way, it makes sense.

But it changes the game completely for them that feels like slamming on the brakes when they were in cruise mode. All of the sudden, they’re back to Conscious-Incompetence– not with the original area of performance, but with this new thing called training or leading someone else in what I don’t even have to think about… which they don’t know how to do.

How does understanding how people learn influence a person’s ability to lead?

It can make or break it.

When you think about being able to really influence someone to think or choose differently than they would’ve on their own… or grow in their skills, performance or expertise… this is all about expanding their capacity. That’s growth, which is about learning.

There are some essential yet little-known truths about how all of us learn, which I break down in the book so leaders can identify where someone is in their learning process, and be able to lead in a way that people can keep learning forward in an accelerated way, seeing quick progress, fired up about what they’re doing rather than stressed, overwhelmed or stopped.

There are also some essential differences about how we all learn. I break these down too, so leaders can quickly know how to flex their delivery so that people get it quickly, easily and without re-teaching what we’ve already taught (every leader’s pet peeve).

If people can learn quickly and easily with you as a leader, they can expand what they thought was possible in their own capacity, competence and confidence quickly, too.

Who is the ideal reader of this book? New managers? The C-Suite?

All of the above.

Seasoned leaders will discover nuance and secrets here to unlock pieces to true influence which haven’t been addressed before and how to tap into the version of themselves they need to be more powerfully than ever before. The bigger your position, the more critical these things become, because everything you do is under a microscope and has a bigger ripple effect whether you intend it to or not.

Newer leaders will learn the essentials which simply aren’t taught in management training, so they cut right to the heart of being able to tap into human motivation, performance, and learning so that their efforts go way farther than just managing.

What makes Tap Into Greatness so unique? How is your perspective different from other management books?

I believe that every person has enormous talent, drive and greatness in them, and that every one of those things are both accessible and growable. I also believe that we have the ability to tap into those things on command in ourselves and one another. The very essentials that allow great athletes and performers to tap into and elevate their own game are the same we can be using every day. While the greatest leaders seem to do this naturally, it’s absolutely learnable for every influencer. And I show you how.

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