The First Path to Managerial Leadership

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The practice of management is fluid. It’s constantly evolving, and there are a million ways to approach it. But it seems that we’re always searching for that one person to break it down for us—to tell us the secret to management, tell us how it’s really done.

Fortunately for me, most of the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with admit that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to the concept of management. That was the message from Fred Mackenzie, author of 7 Paths to Managerial Leadership: Doing Well by Doing It Right. During one of our first conversations, he said to me, “You know, Ryan, what always worked for me? It’s going back to the basics.”

As we continued our dialogue over the several months that we worked together to publish his book, I came to find that the concepts we discussed were not new. They were not sexy, provocative, or all that cutting edge. They were, as Fred said, “basic.” They were time-honored practices that work–and that’s the bottom line.

Here’s What I Learned

When a person becomes a manager or supervisor, another layer of knowledge and skills is required in order to be successful. Most people understand this, but can they act on it? If not, that’s when going back to the basics needs to kick in.

This extra layer of skills is often called many things, but at its core, it’s managerial leadership practices. When honed and effectively practiced, managers can put these skills to work for them—to better develop not only themselves, but also their direct reports. Most importantly, if you follow the practices and paths Mackenzie lays out, you’ll help improve your team’s effectiveness and position them for the future. Not to mention, you will like set yourself up for a little recognition.


Unfortunately, many organizations fail to fully identify these practices. Developing these leadership skills is rarely a priority. Whether it’s lack of time, resources, or simple inclination, many managers are left on their own to figure out what to do. But these practices—and paths—are not difficult to understand.

Case in Point: Path #1 Managerial Planning and Task Assignment

The first path to effective managerial leadership is the one most misinterpreted. As a manager, the first and foremost thing to consider is the concept of managerial planning and task assignment planning.

To address this issue, Mackenzie says managers should start by reviewing the basics. Simply ask:

  • What needs to be done? 
  • Who should do it? 
  • When should the tasks be completed?

Next, the ability to clearly define the task at-hand is critical. When presenting a specific task, it is very important to begin your direction with a verb that describes closure. For example, use such verbs as achieve, eliminate, identify, and schedule. If possible, limit your use of activity verbs like understand, assist, investigate, help, and champion. Activity verbs are often difficult to measure or determine milestones or completion times.
Lastly, it is important to know and recognize that your tasks, job, team, and the world around you continually change, grow, and evolve. From time to time, circumstances will alter and a specific task will require revisions to fit a new situation. A good manager must be prepared for this. Being able to adapt allows for no future surprises. Mackenzie advises managers to reflect on their current management practices periodically and adjust their approach as they see fit. Receiving input from direct reports is key to knowing these situations.

About the Book

The 7 Paths approach is written for the new manager looking for a place to start, the seasoned manager looking to get back to the basics, and the current leader who wants to effectively practice “the art of getting exceptional work done through the willing efforts of others.” Whatever your circumstance, you can use these paths to identify your leadership style, along with its benefits and shortcomings, as well as learn how to build on your strengths to inspire those you lead.

To learn more about Fred Mackenzie’s seven paths, check out the book here: 7 Paths to Managerial Leadership: Doing Well by Doing It Right.

About the Author

Ryan Changcoco is the senior manager for ATD’s Management and Healthcare Communities of Practice. His primary responsibility is to partner with subject matter experts from all over the world to develop content in the areas of management development, leadership, and healthcare training and administration. Prior to working at ATD, Ryan served as a business consultant for several large healthcare organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield. His specialties include project management, healthcare administration, and management consulting. Ryan received a degree in public administration from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

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