Leadership and management are separate disciplines yet there is a significant amount of overlap between the two. There are many times when leaders have to manage and managers have to lead.
However, in the work I’ve done with leaders and organizations over the years, as well as my own personal experience, I’ve noticed it’s much easier to gravitate toward management activities than it is leadership.
Why is that? The pressures of daily priorities, overwhelming to-do lists, fighting the unexpected fires that arise, and managing the minutiae of organizational life overtakes our focus. As a result, our leadership gets the short end of the deal. We neglect long-term planning, innovating for the future, and developing our team members for their next growth opportunity.
We can avoid letting our management responsibilities devour us if we keep an eye on where we place our time and attention. Here are four signs that may indicate you are over-managing and under-leading:
You focus more on holding people accountable to the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Rules are important; no doubt about it. Especially when it comes to issues of law and safety, we need to ensure rules are followed. However, you need to remember that rules and processes exist to bring life to a greater purpose. Your decision-making should be governed by fulfilling the spirit of the law, not the letter. It’s easy to fall back on enforcing rules and processes because it’s tangible and clear-cut. Achieving the spirit of the law often involves more abstract issues, multiple points of view, and difficult decision-making.
You value results ahead of people. Achieving results and valuing people are not mutually exclusive, yet one only needs to look at how leaders behave to discern their true beliefs. However you define results—revenue, margin, profit, customer satisfaction—those are the points on the scoreboard at the end of the game. But your people are the players on the field achieving those results. One has to come before the other. When results dominate your focus, you stop viewing people as human beings and start looking at them as soulless human resources that are tools to be used to achieve your goals.
You spend more time helping people get comfortable with change instead of challenging them to rise to the occasion. Too often we tend to baby employees through change instead of equipping them with skills to be more resilient and adaptable. Change is a constant in organizations and we mistakenly think we can make it easy for employees by selling them on the benefits of the change, making it more palatable, crafting the perfect communication plan, and implementing the perfect roll-out plan. This results in leaders shouldering the responsibility for the change effort and it creates a culture of learned helplessness among employees.
You devote more energy to managing the status quo instead of innovating for the future. I believe the single biggest difference between managers and leaders is that leaders proactively initiate change to improve the organization, whereas managers deal with change on a reactive basis. Leaders display a desire to consistently make things better. They aren’t content to maintain the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.” Leaders frequently question the way their business operates, with an eye toward making things simpler, better, easier, or more efficient. When was the last time you asked questions like: Why are we doing it this way? What would happen if we stopped doing that? How can we simplify this process?
Regardless of whether your formal position or job title classifies you as a leader or manager, it’s your mindset, and the resulting behaviors, that identify you as one or the other. Managing is often tangible and task-oriented, and checking items off our to-do list makes us feel good. Leadership can be more complex, ambiguous, and the results of our labor aren’t always immediately evident. If we aren’t careful, the whirlwind of organizational life will cause us to drift toward managing instead of leading, and that doesn’t serve ourselves, our people, or our organizations.
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