June 11, 2018 // By Rian Gorey
For years we were taught that management has to do with forecasting, budgeting, planning and controlling. While the text books had traditionally focused on these management techniques only recently has much of the literature started to analyze the differences between leaders and managers.
It is important to note up front that every successful organization needs managers and leaders – but there is difference. Exceptional leaders are much rarer. Leadership can be hard to describe but you know it when you see it; you know difference; it is palpable. Leaders are those people that truly inspire us to do our best.
In India, Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer inspired millions of people to fight for their rights, and he walked shoulder to shoulder with them so India could achieve independence in 1947. His vision became everyone’s dream and ensured that the country’s push for independence was unstoppable. He did not have an army. He led by examples and with inspiration. To win independence, he defeated the most powerful country in the world without firing a gun but with a vision and the ability to see opportunity instead of problems and to inspire millions of people to do the same.
On the other hand, you have probably known managers with intellect, great problem-solving skills, tenacity, and knowledge that helps the organization work effectively but fails to spark inspiration and growth.
"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." - Stephen Covey
I first became a “manager” in my career more than twenty-five years ago. I have always aspired to be a great leader. There has been much written on the differences between the two groups. Leaders influence. Managers direct. Leaders look forward and imagine the possibilities that the future may bring in order to set direction. Managers monitor and adjust today's work, regularly looking backward to ensure that current goals and objectives are being met. The best leaders lead and let their management teams manage the work at hand.
Some of the differences literature articulates are:
Counting value vs creating value. You are probably counting value, not adding it, if you are managing people. Only managers count value; some even reduce value by disabling those who add value. If a bricklayer is asked to report every 15 minutes how many bricks he has laid, by distracting him, his boss is subtracting value. By contrast, leaders focuses on creating value, saying: “I’d like you to handle A while I deal with B.” He or she generates value over and above that which the team creates, and is as much a value-creator as his or her followers are. Leading by example and leading by enabling people are the hallmarks of action-based leadership.
Circles of influence vs Circles of power. Just as managers have subordinates and leaders have followers, managers create circles of power while leaders create circles of influence. The quickest way to figure out which of the two you are doing is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice. The more that do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.
Leading people vs managing work. Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.
Some of the other commonly noted differences are:
- Inspires Change
- Requires Vision
- Requires Imagination
- Requires Abstract thinking
- Requires the ability to articulate
- Requires an aptitude to sell
- Requires an understanding of the external environment
- Requires risk taking
- Requires confidence in the face of uncertainty
- Is accountable to the entire group
- Manages transformation
- Requires Tenacity
- Requires specifics
- Requires concrete data
- Requires the ability to interpret
- Requires an aptitude to teach
- Requires an understanding of how work gets done inside the organization
- Requires self-discipline
- Requires blind commitment to completing the task at hand
- Is accountable to the entire team
Not everyone can be inspiring, have vision, think abstractly with imagination, etc. Most of us, however, can improve aspects of our leadership. While some of the traits are innate, sometimes it just takes being aware of what they need to do to lead better. Managers can become more effective leaders by keeping the following people-oriented tasks on their radar:
"Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing." - Tom Peters
- Morale: Being aware of your team’s morale (and staying active in keeping it high) is one of the defining traits of a leadership. Trust is essential. Teams need to know that their leader is in the trenches with them and has their back. Working toward good morale will move you solidly in the direction of being leader.
- Empowerment: Making an investment in the tools for your team to get their job down is not just good project management; it shows a respect and a concern for them as individuals. Making it easier for your team to do their job helps motivate them and keep things running smoothly.
- Scheduling: As a manager you have responsibility over timelines, but the awareness of how the affect the human element is the mark of a leader. Managers can easily see milestones and deadlines; leaders have to worry about the intangibles of how those deadlines affect teams.
- Team-building: Working to build a team with people who not only work effectively on their own, but together, is one of the greatest assets of a leader. By focusing each person’s strengths, and mitigating his or her weaknesses, the leader can get much more out of the team.
- Sense of Fit: For teams to be very effective, every member of the group needs to feel as if they have a role to fulfill that matches their interests. By providing that fit between the needs of the team and the skills of the individual, everyone performs up to their potential. Additionally, showing them how their skills contribute to group success makes bring pride in what they can provide, making them more likely to shine.
My company leadership recently articulated the values and behaviors that would continue to “Make our Company a Great Place to Work.” Living them every day not only helps achieve that vision but also helps to define what we see in admired leaders.
Our Behaviors Our Values
Drive for Results Courage
Sometimes we get promoted into the responsibility of leadership and we never really signed up for it. That’s OK though, because so long as we keep aware of what we need to do, and constantly strive to improve, the jump to leadership isn’t hard. Remember the differences of management vs leadership and look at these steps:
- Assess your role: The more aware you are of what you are trying to achieve, the more you will orient yourself towards achieving it. The constant reinforcement can help keep you on track.
- Consider the environment: In the same way that it helps to know yourself, it also helps to be aware of the environment you are trying to work in. Remember what can cause problems and what can be of help, and then play to those rules.
- Make an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses: Being honest with ourselves helps make it possible to play to our strengths and mitigate weaknesses. By keeping very aware of our talents and our goals, we can combine them successfully.
- Develop a long term plan: A series of short-term, attainable goals make progress easier. By knowing what you are trying to achieve, we have a much easier time making progress and doing the best thing to get to where we want to go. Without a definite plan, we can end up wandering without direction, wasting opportunities to grow.
- Use your plan to evaluate your actions: We make decisions out of habit, instinct and practice. That works great if we are content with the way we solve problems now, but if we are trying to change, we need to be intentional about what we do. Using your awareness of what you want to be, and what your strengths and weaknesses are (see above), you can decide what course of action reflects the leader you want to be, and you can act accordingly. The key is to run through that list mentally every time you confront a problem. Consider the definition of what it means to be an active leader, and determine whether you are fulfilling them or not. That quick meditation can keep you on target until those leadership skills become a habit.
Every day I seek to be a better manager and a leader in both my professional and my personal life (some days are definitely harder than others!). Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." Developing a habit requires awareness, discipline and practice - every day. Great and growing companies cannot have too many great managers or leaders. Who do you want to be?