One of the most common mistakes that prevents a manager from reaching his or her potential is to over-manage and under-lead. Many of the managers I’ve met over the years don’t even realize that there is a difference between management and leadership, or that developing a balance of both skill sets is essential if they want to grow their team and maximize results. While I can’t explain as well in a few hundred words what takes me two hours to cover in my workshop, I’ll do my best in this space to outline a handful of key differences between management and leadership. Evaluate your own tendencies, and determine if there are adjustments you should make that will help you to optimize your leadership effectiveness.
Think of management as being about paperwork, while leadership concerns people-work. Management involves systems, controls, budgets, forecasting, scheduling, processes and procedures. On the other hand, the focus of leadership is to attract and develop talent, motivate, create vision and values, and build a team that can succeed in your absence. I explain to the attendees of my workshops that there are two categories of tasks you can engage in every day: “stuff” or people. Frankly, management is the stuff part of your job, and it’s so easy to become consumed by that aspect of your daily responsibilities that you have little or no time left for people. A consequence for building an organization that is over-managed & under-led is that the team is likely to be under-developed & overwhelmed.
Management and leadership are equally important. Don’t get the idea that “management” is a bad word. The problem comes when you over-manage, and spend so much time with stuff that you become isolated, aloof, out of touch, and stop impacting your people. The reason I’ve spent so much time over the years writing about and teaching leadership is that it’s the skill set that most managers have had little training in. They get schooled on how to do the “stuff” part of the job (data entry, inventories, forecasts, budgets, scheduling, reading financial statements, etc.) but don’t have a clue how to recruit, interview, motivate, cast a vision, hold someone accountable, or mentor. While it is common to over-manage and under-lead, it is also possible to over-lead and under-manage. Think about it this way: management without leadership means that you won’t be able to grow what you keep, whereas leadership without management means you won’t be able to keep what you grow.
Here are three of the twenty key differences between managers and leaders that I discuss in my seminars to help attendees become more aware of what they’re doing well, and where they need to make adjustments in their daily approach to leadership:
1. Managers maintain whereas leaders stretch. Managers are decent at maintaining people, but they’re not great at growing them because they don’t spend enough time with them, and were never trained how to evaluate or develop human capital in the first place. They don’t seem to realize that while you can impress people at a distance (in your fancy office), to impact them you must get up close. Leaders, on the other hand, are committed to leaving followers better than they found them. They stretch them out of their comfort zone, provide the tools and personal touch their team members need to grow to their potential, and hold them accountable for results.
2. Managers lead from the rear, leaders lead from the front. Because they are enamored with “stuff,” managers spend more time in their offices getting dazed by data and numbed by numbers, than they do in the trenches acting as a catalyst and unleashing the potential of their team. As they pencil-whip budgets and count beans in an attempt to turn the numbers around, they fail to develop their human capital—turn the people around—so that their people can turn the numbers around. These folks talk like leaders but act like anchors. On the other hand, leaders spend more time charting the course than they do charting results. They focus on what’s happening in the arena and on the horizon, because they know that the front line determines the bottom line.
3. Managers resist change and defend the status quo; leaders rattle the status quo and change before they have to. Managers who spend a good part of their day roosting in an office, surrounded by stuff, or suffering through hours of death-by-meeting, devolve into a defensive posture where they spend more time plugging holes, doing damage control, and reacting than they do initiating change. However, when they lead in the trenches with their people, they see more clearly what needs to be changed and are quicker to take action. Too many leaders, who were successful at one time because they lead from the front and acted as a change agent, gradually withdrew from their catalyst role and begin presiding and administering from their backside. They regress from active to passive; from “lead,” a verb, to “leadership,” a noun. During this regression, they descend from risk taker, to care taker, to undertaker, eventually presiding over a lifeless enterprise that became comatose on their watch.
If you over-manage and under-lead in areas like the three I’ve presented, don’t beat yourself up. After all, we all get off track. What’s important is that you become a more self-aware leader who makes faster adjustments when you stray from a sound leadership style so that your temporary detour doesn’t lead you into a rut which, if you stay in it long enough, becomes a grave.