Leadership, management, and mentoring: getting this right is good for you, good for business

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.”

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17 Responses to Leadership, management, and mentoring: getting this right is good for you, good for business

  1. jane tims says:

    Hi. When I worked, I loved being a manager and I hoped that sometimes that role allowed me to inspire in the way I believe a leader must proceed. In government, being a manager often meant working within the work-planning framework, and I even liked that. I always thought that having a work plan that fit into the overall goals for the unit helped to make sure everyone was on track. Now that I am retired, do I ‘manage’ myself? Do I have a work plan? Do I even schedule myself? No. Great post! Jane

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hi Jane. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I can imagine you being considered an organized, knowledgeable, and trustworthy manager. I like your own evaulation of yourself in retirement. Jane, what do you think you are doing in your pursuit of your writing and drawing?! You set goals that stretch you, you follow through on them, and you even provide insightful descriptions of these well managed activities on your blog!! You can’t get away from those practices that easily. 🙂

  2. puravida says:

    Jane, this is an excellent post! So much to think about. I like your comparison to parenting – definitely a long-term project that requires a great deal of leadership, management and mentoring. As my daughters grow, I’ll admit I’m happy to give up some of the management duties in exchange for the pleasures of mentoring.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What a great way to put the changes in parenting skills as kids get older, from managing to mentoring. In my opinion, parenting is the most challenging and rewarding career we have (although I’m very glad it wasn’t my only one!).

  3. rwcrouch says:

    Thank you for an interesting and inspiring post that rings so true with my current situation, leading a new team in a newly merged service. You highlight the differences so well between leadership and management and I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your words to remind me what I need to be doing over the coming weeks and months in case I stray. For the first time in my management career I set down my vision for the team and delivered it during a recent meeting. Having never done this before I was a little nervous, and unsure how this would be received, but the feedback has been positive.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thank you so much for your comments. It sounds like you have a very healthy approach to management! I’d be honored to have my words used, but it seems that you have a good handle on things, plus good instincts!

  4. jennypellett says:

    Very interesting post, thank you, Jane – you make a lot of sense. I used to find that making people feel they were indispensible to me did wonders for their own self esteem as well as increasing productivity. Also, a thanks every now and then goes down extremely well – so often forgotten these days!

  5. Loved your post! Too often the roles are sort of bound up in one person, or, worse, people fail to differentiate the two roles and assume that all that all that’s required is to put someone ‘in charge.’ To me, it’s always seemed that organizations function best when both roles are played out skillfully. I liken it to a dance–the two have to have a shared sense of direction. It’s even better when you liken it to flying a kite. The leader is more the force of the wind on the kite. It’s capable of providing the impetus for that so-important upward movement. But the wind is unpredictable; sometimes chaotic and it takes the skilled hands of the flyer (the manager) to guide those powerful forces in order to create a sustained and predictable flight.

  6. alesiablogs says:

    I have been waiting for this post ever since you said you were going to write on it. I am now retired so I can take this information in and feel good and/or bad about how I was as an employee and a person in charge at times. I do not want to go into a lot of detail of my own work life, but I will say this about it: I found my gift in being a follower much more rewarding than a leader. As a nurse this meant I was at the bedside with my patients. I was not behind a desk pushing a pencil or probably as they would say now writing an email.haha
    I was told many times I should be a leader, but I know I was held back by fear. I also did not want a job taking over my homelife with my sons. My career and my family had to be the right balance as far as I was concerned. I think I did it right for the most part, but I do regret one thing. I should have inspired much earlier on in my greatest love and that was writing. I had no time for it back then as I do now. I am afraid it would not have paid the bills either.. Thank you for sharing..I agree with your assessment completely.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Alesia, you always have so much to contribute to any discussion. You were totally correct that taking a management position would have made it more difficult to spend the kind of time we would like to spend as mothers. It’s a continual balancing act and it doesn’t always balance well. What interests me is that you made that conscious decision. Many people accept positions despite fear, and the fear is sometimes from knowing that they will be in over their head. I think they make that decision based partlyon the extra pay, partly the perceived prestige of the title, but it ends up being a lose-lose situation. The person is stressed and unhappy, and doesn’t do a good job. It’s called the Peter Principle: people are inclined to rise to their highest level of incompetence. The truly courageous person is the one who is prepared to stay at the level of true competence and job satisfaction despite the pressures to switch. That’s a win-win, happy employee and job well done!

      • Lisa says:

        Great post, great comments and timely. I am too young to be this frustrated with the obvious and purposeful acknowledgement that in order to be a “successful” contributor I have to give up my work to life balance. To hear a manager say “successful” people can expect to not have balance kills me – saying it out loud almost sounds as bad as ‘yeah I cheat on my wife, but she know!” I played the corporate game for many years and lost a piece of my soul and my family that I can never get back, I am stronger now and I can say “darn right I’m smart, darn right I’d make a good manager, darn straight I’m not interested.” I currently am a management consultant my role is to bring the strategy to management and help them implement it into the sales field, why would I want to be a manager when I got such a cool job. Oh yeah, a 20% raise. I’ll pass. If you are a manager my challenge to you is before you build a development plan for anyone, make sure the plan is for the employee and not the company, and you will be surprised to find out there are enough people to go around. Oh and PS not everyone is driven by money. Thank you Jane, I think I went on a rant.

  7. This is great advice and hits too close to home. Definitely something I have to think more about. Thank you

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Keith. I hoped it would hit home with some people, but you definitely don’t fall in that category. There are always lots of balls to juggle, aren’t there?!

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