Leading, Not Managing: 3 Essential Leadership Skills

Leading, Not Managing: 3 Essential Leadership Skills

Leading is a step up from simply managing, and it’s a step worth taking. While more fulfilling for both you and your team, how does one go from manager to leader? According to Karna Nisewaner, Vice President & Associate General Counsel at Cadence, one has to master three skills: creating value, creating a circle of influence, and leading (not managing) through influence, motivation, and example. Nisewaner continually works on these skills in every aspect of her job. She joined Cadence looking to manage others, but by focusing on these skills, she has become not just a manager, but a leader.

Create Value

Simply put, managers count value. Leaders, however, create value far beyond the value created by the team on its own. Leading by example and leading by enabling others are the hallmarks of action-based leadership. Nisewaner became Vice President within 5 years after joining Cadence. In part, because she demonstrated her leadership and created value by successfully building a highly-visible patent program. She explains, “When I joined, there was a sense of frustration because we didn’t know what patents we had in our patent portfolio or why we had them. We had a lot of patents and no strategy.” Nisewaner knew this wasn’t sustainable in the long term. “If you answer strategic questions about why and what you patent you get better quality patents in the end,” she says. Nisewaner and her team undertook the massive task of reviewing, categorizing, and working with various business units to understand Cadence’s patent portfolio of about 1,800 patents. The process was lengthy, but successful. “At the end we had a sense of what is important and what needs to change,” she says. In the process of reviewing the patents, Nisewaner and her team amassed a lot of data and figured out a way to save 15% in costs. By spearheading this project, Nisewaner created value, instead of simply counting it.

Create Circles of Influence

Managers have subordinates, while leaders have followers. Likewise, managers create circles of power, while leaders create circles of influence. One way to size your circle of influence is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who consult with you. Obviously, the more people come to you for advice, the higher the likelihood you are a leader.

After Nisewaner completed the patent classification project, both the executives and her General Counsel manager asked her to propose an expansion to Cadence’s license compliance program to align Cadence with its competitors’ programs and demonstrate how the revised program would be more profitable than the status quo. She was given two months. Right before Christmas, Nisewaner embarked on another epic data-collection and research journey. She reached out to Cadence’s competitors and asked them about their license compliance programs, issues they had faced, and lessons they had learned. Using this information to gather and benchmark the sizes of compliance programs, expectations of return, and strategies for obstacle management, she discovered that other companies had very different programs. “However, they also had many things in common,” she explains. “For example, I learned that the sales organization was instrumental in the success of the program.” Based on her research, Nisewaner presented another proposal to the executives, explained the support and resources needed, and projected the return that should be expected. After this presentation, she gained strategic support from the top, influenced executives to support her proposal, and created a true license compliance program.

This cross-functional influence on sales, finance, marketing, and product organizations was a significant benefit of this project. “People were very engaged. And, because we had executive support, it totally worked, even though some individuals were skeptical about my proposal,” says Nisewaner. She explains that data points from competitors were very helpful because she could clearly manage expectations, articulate asks, and benchmark against peer companies. Nisewaner advises, “Data is the best ammunition if you want to change an organization. And if you don’t have the data you need, it makes sense to figure out creative ways to get it.” Through her creative research journey, Nisewaner gathered the ammunition necessary both change her organization and create an organization-wide circle of influence.

Leading People by Influence, Motivation, and Example

Leadership is an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. It is less about control and more about inspiration and leading by example. The essential goal of leadership is for your vision to become everyone’s goal.

“Creating a trusted environment is key when you want to lead a team,” says Nisewaner. “I have a devoted team of attorneys and legal professionals. My goal is to preserve and build on this feeling of a unified team.” Nisewaner also explains that it is a hard transition from being a peer to being a leader. “In order to do this successfully, I intentionally created a space where people can come to me with issues and be included,” she says. “This way my team can pick up what I can’t.”

Nisewaner’s efforts have paid off in her team’s satisfaction. She proudly declares, “There is a sense that we are a good team. We have each other’s back. And I think it is because I tend to be transparent.” For example, Nisewaner openly shares the highlights of her discussions with both the General Counsel and Cadence leadership. This keeps her team included and creates trust. Staying aware of higher-level conversation also gives the team the necessary background information to motivate them. “Giving context is helpful because it encourages people to be more engaged and provide a better work product,” says Nisewaner.

“In the end, you just have to give to get and lead by example. There is no other way,” Nisewaner declares. By letting go of control and focusing on mastering the skills to inspire and influence, managers can elevate themselves to true leaders. Mastering Nisewaner’s three skills of creating value, creating circles of influence, and leading by example can lead to a more fulfilling career for both you and your team.

This article was originally published by Above the Law.

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