Most of us have a pretty good idea of the formal difference between leading and managing. Leadership is more about having a vision and being able to get people to buy into that vision, which is a fairly rare gift. Management, on the other hand, is more about having the ability to execute the vision by being able to get people to do the jobs needed to successfully complete the execution.
Ideally, a strong leader will have good management skills as well as leadership skills, or will at least understand how necessary they are and ensure that he or she has the right people involved. Likewise, ideally people in management positions will have good leadership skills; it makes execution so much more effective.
What are those skills? Depending on what management guru you read, several of the skills are overlapping, especially the ones I personally consider most important: paying attention to your people. More about that later. Skills typically identified as differences are things like:
- A manager is concerned about the short term, while a leader is concerned about the long term;
- A manager is concerned about coordination (work plans, resource management, operating procedures, deadlines), while a leader is concerned about motivation (communicating the vision and keeping the managers and stakeholders aligned with that vision);
- A manager administers, while a leader inspires and innovates.
Needless to say, it is not possible to clearly delineate these differences from one role to another, nor is it in anyone’s best interest to do so. What we need in business, in politics, and in other organizations are people with some of these leadership skills in every managerial role. People who instill trust, who listen to the people they are involved with and try to bring the best out in everyone, so that everyone is working to their full potential and feels fulfilled. They inspire their colleagues and employees.
Which brings me to mentoring. In my experience, a lot is said about the value of mentoring these days but precious little is done about it. I’m not convinced that many people in management and leadership roles understand what mentoring means. It means helping people to grow, professionally and personally. It means sharing your own experiences so they can benefit from it. It means preparing people for management roles, including women. It means knowing your people well enough to identify those with management potential, and not just those people you happen to relate well to. It should be part of your job, both for your people and for the health of your organization.
It is important to remember that when you are in a management position you are actually serving as a mentor by virtue of your role in authority. You are a role model. Maybe not a good role model, but by your actions your direct reports are learning by example what a manager/director/supervisor/boss should be like. They may not like what they are experiencing, but it’s the only example some of them will ever have. How sad; this may be the most important part of your job and you don’t even know because nobody told you – or mentored you – and it’s not in your job description.
I have known more than one person, with very good hearts but not necessarily great instincts, who have become managers after many years of working for a less than empathetic boss. When it was finally their turn to move into a supervisory role, they turned around and treated their employees with the same cynical, negative approach that they had hated because, “that’s what they thought they were supposed to do.”
I have known truly inspiring, charismatic, articulate visionary leaders who had no interest in the details of managing, were not team builders, and who did not fully understand the extent to which a management group needs clarity, mentoring and oversight. Despite the fact that the vision is inspired and the external communication of that vision is exceeding impressive, there is little likelihood of it being well executed when the management team is left floundering.
And I have known some excellent people who were very committed to their company and would have preferred to stay and contribute to making it even better. However, because of their frustrations at the perceived lack of recognition or communication about opportunities, they left to assume management roles at rival companies, depriving their original company of excellent managerial and leadership skills. An understanding of the mentoring component of management and leadership would have changed those outcomes.
I have often thought that the critical skills that inform both leading and managing – nurturing your people – are the same skills that make you a success as a parent. It doesn’t mean that we don’t correct people when there is a problem, but our goal should be to nurture confident, competent, and responsible employees just as we want to raise confident, competent and responsible children. The means to that end aren’t very different; it’s all in how you treat people.
For people in leadership roles, it’s important to understand your responsibilities well enough to recognize where your areas of weakness lie and ensure that they are covered by others. For people in supervisory roles, it’s important to understand that the people who report to you are looking to you for guidance and feedback, positive as well as negative.
For all of us, we should remember that treating others – everyone – with respect will have a significant impact within any organization. The Golden Rule has lasted so long with very good reason: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”