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Do You Need to Lead, Manage, or Do Both?

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

—Peter F. Drucker
A couple of months ago, I spoke to a group of executive directors, managers, and small business owners on the topic “Do You Need to Lead, Manage, or Do Both?” This question is one of my favorites, as discussing the differences between managing and leading never seems to tire and is always one of the most engaging topics I speak on. Both leaders and managers have value; they are necessary, different, and not necessarily mutually exclusive. In small businesses, one person often has to wear both hats. The two positions require different skill sets, and not everyone is adept at playing both roles. Small businesses often have limited resources and hiring what they need to complement their strengths may not be feasible. As a result, the blending of leader and manager is not always possible to achieve.
A Gallup poll, State of the American Workplace, 201 revealed that more than 50% of people would leave their jobs tomorrow if they could. The main reason? They don’t like their managers. Because most organizations are set up as a hierarchy, workers and managers often feel at odds or in competition with each other. For employees, this can create a sense of separation from management and from the organization as a whole.
Are you a manager or a leader? Is there a distinction, or are the roles one and the same? Why does it matter?
Employees’ impressions of their administrators can spark or sink the careers of both parties. It’s, therefore, important to recognize the conspicuous and the nuanced differences and similarities between managers and leaders.
The definitions are far from straightforward, and they’re the subjects of much debate. If you’ve categorized yourself as one or the other, you’re acting on the impression you have of yourself, which ultimately determines how you lead people.
Any complex comparison between managers and leaders reveals definite overlaps. And though some common ground exists, there are numerous dissimilarities.
Mind-set is the primary distinction, business executive and philanthropist Vineet Nayarstates in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article “Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders.” The way you tackle administration helps decide whether you manage or lead. Do you focus on yourself (the manager’s focus) or on others (the hallmark of a leader)
Differences in Purpose
The purpose behind your actions defines your legacy:
  • A manager makes use of people to benefit the organization.
  • A leader makes use of the organization to benefit people.
Other views are more specific:
  • A manager is driven by an immediate purpose, revolving around self.
  • A leader is driven by a purpose higher than self.
  • A manager executes a vision by assigning work.
  • A leader sets the vision by encouraging ideas.
Nayar prefers the following distinctions:
  • A manager counts value by tracking tasks, checking boxes, and expecting others to add value.
  • A leader creates value by empowering people, making them better, and helping to add to the value.
  • A manager accomplishes a goal through people.
  • A leader achieves success with people.
Alan Murray, author of The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management(HarperBusiness, 2010), offers another view:
  • Managers plan, organize, and maintain.
  • Leaders inspire, motivate, and develop.
Differences in Focus
Focus—influenced by your qualifications, experience, fears, opinions, and priorities—describes areas of concern and attention:
  • Managers tend to be more short-term oriented, looking for quicker paybacks.
  • Leaders tend to have a longer-range outlook, looking for future paybacks.
  • Managers make use of others’ skills.
  • Leaders want to develop others’ skills.
  • Managers focus on systems and procedures.
  • Leaders focus on people and possibilities.
  • Managers are keyed into efficiency.
  • Leaders are keyed into unity.
Differences in Authority
Authority—how you oversee, direct, and assess completion of staff activities—radically affects how your employees report to you.
  • Managers reserve authority for themselves. Subordinates submit by requirement.
  • Leaders push authority down to the farthest possible level. Followers join in by choice.
  • Managers assure compliance by following an authority map.
  • Leaders develop trust by charting the authority map.
  • Managers enforce the pace.
  • Leaders set the pace.
Murray, offers an interesting observation:
  • Managers create circles of power, where people are required to comply politically.
  • Leaders create circles of influence, where people desire to follow.
Differences in Behavior
Employees notice the behavior of leaders and manager, and it takes only a few actions to reveal your character traits and the kind of support they’ll receive:
  • Managers tend to operate under a separate set of rules, with little concern for people’s impressions.
  • Leaders exemplify a noble set of rules that others aspire to emulate.
  • Managers prioritize their personal needs.
  • Leaders prioritize other’ needs.
  • Managers seek notoriety for themselves.
  • Leaders seek recognition for their people.
  • A manager’s reputation is based on technical attributes.
  • A leader’s notoriety is based on interpersonal attributes.
The Proper Blend
Is one administrative model superior to the other? Should you adopt a purely managerial or leadership model?
Murray asserts that the two models go hand in hand, and trying to separate them is detrimental. You must blend the two approaches to create an optimal administrative strategy. One approach, on its own, is insufficient for success.
Today’s world of commerce presents greater pressures and shorter deadlines than ever before. There’s little, if any, leeway for workers to step back and catch their breath. Such conditions require the manager model, with an administrator who takes the reins and keeps everyone on track.
Conversely, Murray points out, we also face a new economy, in which workers have developed perspectives that differ greatly from those of previous generations. For example, Employees are prioritizing personal growth over project effectiveness, meaningful contribution over meeting standards, and a sense of purpose over organizational goals.
Managers must, therefore, have the right leadership skills and know how to develop people’s skills.
A widely accepted management framework, based on French engineer Henri Fayol’s early twentieth-century model, calls for four administrative functions:
  1. Planning
  2. Organizing
  3. Leading
  4. Controlling
Planning has short- and long-term elements. Short-term planning accounts for the process, manpower, and timing needed to meet organizational objectives (what effective managers do). Long-term planning accounts for the vision and strategy needed to grow the company and enhance its purpose (what successful leaders do).
Organizing utilizes management skills to plan projects, provide resources, and initiate processes.
Leading comprises four additional building blocks:
  1. Communicating
  2. Motivating
  3. Inspiring
  4. Encouraging
Each component is driven by a leader’s interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.
Applying the Blend
Administrators who cling solely to a managerial or a leadership approach handicap their organizations. Ask yourself: Do I lean too heavily on one approach or the other?
If you’re too management oriented, you’ll have difficulty building trust. People will see that your priority is to get the work done, not to help them or their careers. Your personal goals will seem to override anyone else’s. You’ll be regarded as uncaring or disinterested—unworthy of being followed. People ultimately want to be led, not managed. Manage the things you need to manage, but lead the people you are supposed to lead.
If you’re too leadership oriented, you won’t be able to maintain order. Tasks will be performed incorrectly or be submitted late, and productivity will plummet. Crises will overtake your people because they lack guidance on immediate issues. Your boss will assume you’re unable to handle the job, and you’ll lose your staff’s respect.
For me, leadership is having the inspiration and motivation to follow a vision. Managing is about what everyone needs to do and how they need to do it. You can be a leader and never actually formally supervise employees, and you can be a manager and never actually have formal authority over a staff or team. It is important to note, however, that one’s position title is not a reflection of whether one is capable of doing either (leading or managing) very well.
Administrators who work toward achieving both managerial and leadership capabilities excel at the workplace. Their employees are engaged and motivated. Their relationships with other staff and colleagues are strong, and in this ideal workplace, nothing can stop the team from achieving success.
For reflection, and development:
Where do you need a higher-level leadership strategy and specific management practices that all should be engaged in within your organization?
What’s the real challenge between leading and managing for you?
How do you manage the big picture and the details?
How do you encourage individuals but also emphasize the team?
Where are you flexible, and where are you firm?
How much is your business involves being innovative, and what does it do to maintain stability?


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