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Blog Insight & Commentary

Are You a Manager—or a Leader?

It is possible to be a manager and a leader at the same time?

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

Strong woman on a city street

Although the terms may seem interchangeable, leadership and management are very different. Leaders inspire people, managers direct workflows. Both are indispensable to company growth and success, and sometimes—especially in small organizations—the company owner or CEO has to be both leader and manager.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to lead. In fact, Brigette Hyacinth, author of The Future of Leadership, is of the opinion that “the corporate world is littered with managers but lacks leaders.” Too many people lack the soft skills required to make the move from boss to leader.

The titles used in corporations of all sizes add to the confusion between who exactly the company or department leader is. People are called team leaders, department heads, presidents, mentors, and CEOs. Management consultant Terina Allen says there’s a rule of thumb to make it easier to distinguish management from leadership: “Management is typically reflected via one’s title, but leadership isn’t.”

In other words, a leader can be anyone regardless of rank, but the best managers are also leaders.

“Leadership has nothing to do with your position or authority. The true definition of leadership is the ability to influence others to follow you,” agrees success mentor Darren Hardy. He says good leaders tend to follow take specific actions, the first being that they always take complete responsibility for whatever happens. Another is that they solicit advice, recommendations, and ideas from the people around them, and then make their decision.

Read more: What Does It Mean to Manage Up? Well, I Got Really Good at It

What it looks like to lead

In other words, soft skills are crucial to good leadership. Communication is key, of course, but there has to be intention behind the talk.

Leadership development strategist Halelly Azulay explains that there are different types of intentional conversations leaders should have with their employees. These include talks about employee strengths and goal planning, as well as weekly check-ins. By making time for these conversations throughout the year, Azulay says leaders build trust with their employees. They help them develop professionally and perform their jobs to the best of their ability, which in turn helps the organization achieve its goals.

Good leaders are adaptive too, says entrepreneur Liz Elting. And one of the ways to stay innovative is to encourage and listen to feedback. This goes back to listening: actively listening to colleagues, employees, and clients and really considering what they have to say. "Their feedback is the most valuable piece of information to the success of your company," she explains. "Make it a top priority to not only solicit feedback from them but [also] decipher that feedback and act upon it."

Empowering employees to act on your vision is a hallmark of a good leader. So, if part of your vision as leader is exceptional customer service, front-line employees need to be able to resolve complaints in real time and with some autonomy. If those employees don’t possess above-par communication skills so they can successfully interact with irate clients, the company will suffer. Good leaders make sure employees are given whatever training is necessary.

Good leaders are very clear about their vision too, says outcome facilitator Keisha A. Rivers. "As leaders, it's up to you to provide a clear but succinct picture of the vision and desired outcomes for the team and the organization. People connect to a project or task much easier if they know where it's headed. Don't keep them in the dark. Determine what information is important and then provide clear instructions and expectations to set them up for success—not failure."

Nearly a decade ago, Queen Elizabeth II spoke to the United Nations. Of leadership, she said: "I know of no single formula for success. But I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, and their inspiration to work together."

What it looks like to manage

Some of the characteristics of good management will overlap with those of good leadership. Both, for instance, require that your team or company employees feel safe when giving honest feedback. However, managers aren’t necessarily visionaries—they’re the people who get things done. They optimize processes and move projects to completion.

Management is goal-oriented, which means that assessing your effectiveness as a manager is easy because you can measure the results. 

Management consultant Alison Green, author of Ask a Manager, says you should be asking yourself these questions to ascertain your effectiveness as manager. These include:

  • Does my team have clear goals, and are they being met?

  • Do I have to be involved in every step of my team’s work for it to be accomplished?

  • Does my team complete assigned tasks appropriately and on time?

  • Am I too nervous about my team’s performance to go on vacation?

  • Does my team have high turnover?

The answers to these questions should give you an idea of what’s working and any areas you need to focus on as manager.

Good managers recognize that they manage things, not people. They direct programs, projects and processes, overseeing and controlling them from start to completion, looking for efficiency in time and resources throughout. Good managers are great delegators too, recognizing which task should be assigned to whom for the best outcome.

Leadership consultant Mattson Newell says managers should make the workplace culture they want to see happen. Not by ordering people to behave in a certain way, but by creating situations in which that thinking will take place naturally. 

He points to one startup manager who held weekly potlucks during which the team could disconnect from work and get to know each other as individuals. “Beyond the immediate benefit of staying aligned on projects, processes, and client interactions, the guaranteed weekly communication prevented silos from forming throughout the week. Everyone on the team now knows that sharing ideas and information is critical to the company culture, namely because their manager made collaboration a priority rather than an afterthought,” Newell writes.

When to manage, when to lead

Again, management and leadership skills overlap. Project management professional Jennifer Bridges notes that the top skills for both leaders and managers include communication, motivation, and delegation. The difference between them is how they use those and other skills. Leaders inspire, motivate, and encourage, while managers plan, organize, and coordinate, she explains.

It’s interesting to note that two necessary functions of successful management are leadership and planning, which skills we tend to ascribe to leaders themselves. While managers may not plan company policy or direction, they do develop strategies necessary to bring projects to completion, on time. The planning tends to be short-term, focused on time tables and workflow, rather than visionary.

And while leaders create followers through inspiration, managers need to be able to lead their teams to do good work. This entails those overlapping skills of being able to communicate clearly, motivate by example and delegate strategically.

There are characteristics too that are important in both management and leadership roles, and one is integrity. As Kelsie Beckfield, HR manager at Great Northern Corporation is Wisconsin puts it: “The number one attribute I look for when promoting an employee to a leadership role is integrity. I entrust my leaders with the care of my employees, customers, and the business. They must have a strong moral compass to help my organization realize its full potential. It is a core value of my organization and I need my leaders to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

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