Are you managing or leading?

Good management is important, but it’s not enough for long-term success


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“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” – Warren Bennis

Workdays are easily consumed with management details that keep you tied to your desk and computer screen — answering emails, returning phone calls, signing requisitions, approving timesheets, implementing policies, etc. At the end of the day, by staying on top of things you are keeping the trains on the track and the paperwork flowing. Who has time for anything else?

But have you ever asked how much value you, as a leader, are really bringing to the business by your devotion to all of these management details? Sure, most of these things need to be done somehow, but could they be implemented more efficiently or delegated to someone else? After all, if you are in a leadership role, you have to do more than just manage.

In their book, “Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results,” Robert Anderson and William Adams highlight research that leading from a sense of purpose, translating that into clear vision and building alignment among key stakeholders is highly correlated with effective leadership. Notice that they didn’t mention answering emails or writing policies.

There’s no time you say? But is this more about your time or your comfort zone? Have you ever stepped back and asked if you are using your time most effectively for your business or organization? “Put first things first,” wrote Stephen Covey in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” yet too much of most peoples’ time is spent on tasks that may seem urgent but are not always all that important. Typically, important leadership tasks that lack immediate urgency get far less attention than they really should.

Leaders need to dedicate time to important-but-not-urgent activities, including developing your people, listening to their needs, reflecting on your own behavior and making constant improvements, self-study, planning, imagining future possibilities, giving meaning to work, creating a positive work climate where people have a sense of belonging, communicating your vision and values, encouraging innovation and rewarding positive results.

You also need to be promoting and teaching these skills and values to your staff.

Why does this matter? According to a 2017 Gallup poll, only 33 percent of American workers report they are engaged in their work, and that obviously does not bode well for business success. In their book, “Learning Leadership,” Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner cite research that how a leader acts explains, more than any other variable, whether people feel engaged in their work, that the most effective leaders bring out two to three times more staff talent than do the least effective leaders and organizations with the best leaders are the highest performing.

Comparing management and leadership, Warren Bennis observes: “The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

Management and leadership thus require different skill sets, and no organization can fully thrive without both — but the higher you go in an organization, the more critical high-quality leadership competencies become. Management skills are a lot easier to train and people who learn them typically move up the organizational ladder, but do they have the training and support to fully develop as leaders?

Learning by experience is great, but organizations may pay a steep cost in lowered productivity and reducing staff morale. Organizations need to proactively develop new leaders and not leave them to sink or swim after they get promoted to management.

And, besides the obvious business benefits, growing new leaders is the greatest legacy that any leader can leave behind.

For further thought: Step back and look at your day-to-day workday and how you use your time. What are the most important leadership areas where you could devote more time, and what management tasks can you reduce or delegate to move forward? 

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, Pike, works with nonprofits, governments and businesses on improving performance, leadership and building sustainable cultures. He can be reached at dteschner@GrowingLeadershipLLC.com.

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