Are You a Manager or a Leader – or Both?

Copyright 2006 Progress-U Ltd.

When I ask my coaching clients, mostly senior executives, what they do during a typical working day, I notice that most of them spend the majority of their time with management rather than with leadership issues.

You may ask: What is actually the difference between management and leadership? I like the simple but to-the-point distinction made by the legendary Peter Drucker. He said: “Management is about doing things right, Leadership is about doing the right things.” Or in other words: Management is about efficiency, leadership about effectiveness.

Typically, the more we move up the career ladder, the more important leadership skills become. While leadership competencies might not be that crucial in a junior management position, they are essential in senior management and largely determine the success of the executive.

A question I am often asked is: “Must a good leader be a good manager and vice versa?” The answer is often: “It depends.”

Before I delve deeper into this issue, let’s first further clarify the terms “management” and “leadership.”

Following Peter Drucker’s definition, management is more about execution, i.e. how to do things. For example, how to organize, how to structure, how to process, etc. Leadership is more about direction, i.e. what is our vision, our mission, our strategy and goals? How are we going to be different from our competitors? What are our desired values, (brand) image, culture?

Leaders who inspire know how to develop all these in a way that the people they lead actually want to make this a reality. Clearly, once this is achieved, management, i.e. the execution, becomes a whole lot easier than with a less engaged team.

Besides these competencies, both managers and leaders will need excellent communication skills to make high engagement a reality. For example, the Best Employers Research conducted by Hewitt Associates shows that the best communicate the company vision three times as often than the rest. In fact, approximately every two weeks on the average.

I learn too often from my corporate clients that even middle managers are not really fully aware of the direction of their company. Is it then any surprise that high turnover rates and low engagement are the rule rather than the exception? It seems to me that communication is even more crucial in leadership than it is in management.

Back to the question: “Must a good leader also be a good manager?”

I would say this is necessary for the leader in the absence of enough good managers. It usually depends on the position of the leader and the size of the organization. Obviously, a small company usually can’t afford to have a leader who doesn’t manage; hence, management skills will be necessary as well. However, in bigger organizations, senior executives often never make the full transition from a manager to a real leader. There can be multiple reasons for this.

They include:

* The executive feels more comfortable with execution rather than with leadership.

* The executive doesn’t trust the managers.

* The executive has a problem of letting go of control. * The executive is so caught up with tasks at hand that leadership is simply forgotten.

What is the true purpose of your position? Is it management or leadership, or both? If leadership is part of it, ask yourself:

– Do I allocate sufficient time and resources to actually lead? And if not, what holds me back from being more often a leader and how can I overcome this?

– Do I have capable managers whom I can trust and who give me the space to lead more? If not, how can I develop them? How developed are my own leadership competencies, like giving direction, creating a corporate success culture, public speaking, etc.?

First-class leadership is not something we are born with. While I agree that talent certainly helps, extensive learning must take place to reach a high level of competency. In that sense, leadership is no different from playing the piano or acting in the theatre.

SUMMARY: To make the transition from manager to leader, it is important to have a clear distinction between both functions. The distinction helps us to become more aware which role we are actually playing at any given moment. Then we must ask the question: Do we actually lead adequately in terms of the purpose of our position? Do we have managers who can take over our management tasks? We can be great at something only if we know how to do it. Continuous development of leadership competencies follows as a necessary requirement.