[This article is a modified excerpt from a 4th Street Training Facilitator Guide. © 2003 - 2006 J. D. Neal and Associates, Inc. (www.4thstreettraining.com).]
Manage & Lead
Business Management Skills Series
I am going to clarify something that has confused managers for years: What is the difference between managing and leading, if, in fact, there is a difference? The words are often used interchangeably, and, after all, they’re just words. Does it really matter if we make a distinction?
I can clear up the difference between managing and leading in one sentence: Successful ‘managers’ manage things and lead people.
Managing is about maintaining — control, consistency, predictability, and efficiency. The manager’s goal is to limit variables and ensure that expected results are achieved. Managing the things in your job is vital to your success and the success of the organization.
Is it possible to manage people?
Think about your parents telling you to make your bed. I don’t know about your household, but when I asked, ‘Why?’ (not a very popular question) what do you think my parents said? Right: ‘BECAUSE I SAID SO.’ ‘Don’t ask why, just do it.’ That’s management. You don’t explain why, you tell what. You direct and control and limit variables. You treat people like things. Your main concern is getting the job done.
Leading is actually far more challenging. To lead, my parents would have had to get me to want to make my bed in the morning. (If they were really good leaders, they would have gotten me to want to make my bed better every morning.)
Most managers are more comfortable managing people than leading them. It’s easy to say, ‘Do it my way because I’m the boss, and that’s the way it is.’ It’s detached, it’s objective, it’s focused on what needs to get done, and it’s not too invested emotionally. Fortunately for us all, we see less and less of these types of managers these days.
Leading is about influencing a progressive change in people and through people. Managing people will not get them to change their routines or view the world differently. At its best, it might get them to put their toe in the water (but the minute your back is turned, it’s back out). That’s why my parents had to tell me to make my bed over and over again, and why I stopped making my bed the day I moved out of the house.
Leaders have to convince us to change our old routines and view the world differently. They do it by acknowledging our needs and selling us on the fact that, ‘Hey, this person might be on to something.’ Leaders have to show people the benefits of the change they want to create.
Think about being in a lifeboat adrift at sea with other people.
The managers on board will be more conservative; they want to keep the boat steady and controlled, conserve energy, ration food and water, coordinate clear roles for everyone. All important stuff. The leaders on board search for innovative ideas and work to create hope and energize people to act and not give up. They ‘rock the boat’ and get others to rock it with them. Also important. Thus, the paradox. And, we ask ourselves, ‘How do we resolve this paradox?’
When people are not given choices — when they are treated like replaceable parts — they are being managed. Their bosses bark and snap and hover over them like superior beings. Bosses are coercive and controlling. This is the traditional path, and it is how things were done for a long time, and still done by some managers and organizations.
This path might seem more natural to some, but it doesn’t work anymore. We all have choices now, we don’t respond to coercion, and more than that, we expect — and are getting — the respect and recognition we deserve from employers. Otherwise, we leave.
The required path involves more and more shared leadership. Leadership is the only way to deal with the innovations your business demands. It’s the only way to keep the best people. It’s the only way to be better, and different, from the competition.
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