The debate rages over leadership vs. management. Those who lead are supposed to be both inspiring and capable of strategic or “big picture” thinking. Those who manage are expected to operate more in the trenches and be more anal and detailed-oriented. As a consequence most of us respond to a call to be leaders rather than managers, because leading seems more important and even less boring.
A common mistake is for us to perceive leaders as the people at the top of the organizational pyramid, while managers are in the middle of the organization where all accountability lies – driven by mountains of performance and financial data.
We believe that rather than focusing on the nouns (leader or manager) it is better to focus on the verbs – to lead or to manage. Leading and managing are action items that EVERYONE in the organization must do. Even if you are a first line supervisor, part of your role is to provide your people with a sense of purpose and direction. Isn’t this leading?
When it comes to executing success, we all need to pay attention to details, collecting and analyzing information, and taking corrective steps when it seems we are drifting off course. This is as true if you are a CEO and tracking the performance of a new acquisition as it is for a team leader trying to launch a new computer system somewhere in the bowels of the enterprise.
Whatever rung of the pyramid you inhabit, you need to draw on leading and managing skills which are BOTH vital and integral to each other. We should think about it more as a pendulum where we swing back and forth between inspiring and controlling, challenging and monitoring, planning and problem solving. This has to do only with the situations we face, not our job description.
In a recent article, Ericka Anderson, author and consultant, argues that to be effective in life, we all need to have leadership skills, that is, skills that tell others who we are and what we stand for, such that those who see us deem us worthy of being followed. Her list of key attributes is:
- Far-Sighted (Means seeing beyond the moment to what’s coming up ahead, and recognizing the likely consequences of today’s actions.)
- Passionate (It is not enough to be going through the motions doing what your boss commanded. Our enthusiasm is infectious and builds momentum – particularly when the goal is worthwhile.)
- Courageous (Who wants to follow someone who will “wimp out” at the first sign of adversity? We admire bosses who have our back, will “go to bat” for us and speak truth to power.)
- Wise (Being a nice person is not enough, when your ideas are “half-baked.” We expect our leaders to do their homework, think deeply about what they are doing and making resulting good decisions, learn from their past triumphs and failures, and gets it right most of the time.)
- Generous (We will recoil from leaders who appear to be all about themselves. We desire those who will serve us, no matter how tired they are or how scare their resources may be. They care about all of us even more than they do themselves.
These are described in detail in her related article: Leading Now and Always. It is hard to argue with this list which to me adds up to building a sense of trustworthiness.
Developing and practicing these attributes requires reflection, self-evaluation, and a true connection with a value system that drives your own behaviors day in and out. These come from within you and only work when you find your own trigger that gives you the resolve to live your life in accordance with what you believe to be true.
Managing skills, however, are more learnable, like becoming a good carpenter or chef. And, with practice, you can become proficient. There are tools, templates, methodologies you can learn about running meetings, managing projects, analyzing processes, controlling budgets and so forth.
I said earlier that managing and leading are integrated skills. Here is one way they overlap. Again, Anderson suggests that when we are acting more in a leading or a managing capacity, great leaders and great managers:
- listen well,
- are curious,
- manage their self-talk, and
- hold themselves accountable for moving the business forward
These things are at the intersection between leading and managing. Leaders can craft compelling visions that inspire. Managers can analyze situations and plot course corrections. But these four behaviors define how you will interact with the people on whom you depend to make things happen.
So forget about your job title. All of this needs to be in your job description. It’s not someone else’s job, but yours. Be both a great leader AND a solid manager.