5 Things Studying with CMI Taught Me About Leadership (that aren’t in the syllabus)

Earlier this year, I took part in a fantastic project developing training materials to support the delivery of Chartered Management Institute (CMI) training in Management & Leadership on behalf of Challenges Worldwide.  As this subject area really is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and because Challenges is an organisation close to my heart, I fully embraced this opportunity.  Being able to combine my existing leadership experience with CMI best practise for the benefit of new Team Leaders is a source of real personal pride for me – and I loved working on this project!

Having completed the project some months ago, I’m nearing completion of the CMI Diploma Assessments and am driven to make 2017 the year I gain Chartered Manager status. Whilst my studies with CMI are moulding me into the kind of leader I want to be, they have also taught me a few things that aren’t in the syllabus. Here are a few of my favourites:

1.      To be in a position of leadership is a privilege.

As a Manager/ Team Leader, there will always be another KPI, task or target waiting for your team when they achieve today’s goals – the impact of technical performance is short lived. What’s more durable is the mark a person in a position of leadership can leave on the team and individual’s development, morale and well-being.  Leaders are in a position to shape a team’s experience in the workplace or influence an individual’s career development (for better, or worse) – and this responsibility should not be taken lightly. Managers/Leaders who remember this will earn, and keep, their team’s respect without even trying – all the while, continuing to bring in that technical performance.

2.  Adopting a “taking the bull by the horns” approach during the first weeks in a new role is only effective if you’re a cattle farmer or a cowboy.

Change management matters. We’ve all encountered, or maybe even been, that Manager/Team Leader who, within a week of starting a new role, alienates the team by bombarding them with changes to processes. I’ve heard this approach described as being “direct”, “gung-ho” or “taking the bull by the horns” – and it always, I repeat, always ends in tears. Even when change is desperately needed.Whatever the motivations are, a new Manager who rapidly introduces changes before fully understanding the complexities of the team dynamic can simply send out the message that their current efforts aren’t good enough.

My studies with CMI have allowed me to reflect on the impact that a new Manager or Team Leader has on a team. Their appointment to the role represents a change in itself, and managing the change process within teams is a delicate task. Involving the team in the early stages of the decision-making process which culminates in a change can mitigate fallout, gain team buy-in and help a newly appointed Manager make a great first impression.

3.      You’re doing it wrong if you’re the sole innovator/problem solver in the team.

A Manager has the authority to implement processes that facilitate continuous improvement, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the sole vessel for solutions to problems. To me, this has always felt counter-intuitive when I’ve been in a position of leadership: I should be the one to solve my team’s problems in order to remain relevant in my role. In reality, the people that do a job day in, day out, are the real subject matter experts and often understand both the root cause of a problem and how best to solve it. We all know what looks great in theory isn’t always best in practice – so consulting with the team can save a great deal of time and pain for a Manager. Whatever the end result of such collaboration, the team will likely feel valued for having their expertise called upon.

4.      Whilst there’s no I in TEAM, there is one in LEADERSHIP…but it’s small and it’s right at the end.

In other words, the day you step into a position of Management or Leadership, the team become your key stakeholders and meeting their needs must become your top priority. There really is no place for ego in leadership A team who have the tools required to do their job, are in alignment with organisational goals and feel valued by their seniors will deliver results.

Start with the team and the results will follow – not the other way round.


5.      Instincts are powerful – trust them.

The further I get into my studies with CMI, the more I realise that I allowed the values and leadership styles of my peers/seniors to shape my own in my early career as a Manager – because surely more experienced managers knew better than I! At best, ignoring one’s instincts kills the ability to develop confidence in making judgement calls.  At worst, it can suck away the ability to take pride as a leader who serves as an authentic role model to their team.

I’ve learned that taking an approach which balances advice with instinct can breed effective leaders who make informed decisions in line with their value system, learn from experienced colleagues/mentors and allow them to become the kind of leader that’s best for their team.

Written by Fiona McGrail,

Team Leader, Kumasi, Ghana – 2016


Challenges are now offering CMI accredited training and qualifications in Management & Leadership through Challenges Catalyst the new engine for accelerated enterprise growth.

Visit challengescatalyst.com/learn to find out how you can gain the skills to effectively lead a team.