August 2011

Just ask anyone if there’s a difference between managing and leading. Most will say there is – but many will have difficulty defining the difference. We’ve all heard the obvious answer – that you manage things and lead people. Way too simple? I think so. The journey from manager to leader is anything but simple, and calls for some serious self-reflection and shift in skill sets.

Are you Managing or Leading?

I’ve been coaching a very brilliant leader (John) who is in line to become the next general manager of his company. Although his current position is an executive leader, his behaviors with his team of direct reports were more consistent with a manager role. He was handholding the team, and present at all the tactical meetings requiring decisions, corrections, and hand- on with his people in “how to do” their jobs. In his frustration and impatience in getting them to do what he wanted ( in his way) he was finding himself spending more and more time in tactical meetings, fixing things. After all, he is the leader, so he felt the responsibility to have all the answers and the best ways to do things.

A crisis occurred when the team was unable to meet an important project deadline – and in his frustration, John displayed his disappointment with the outcome, and planned to repeat his pattern of correction, and “telling”. After admitting that this particular problem was not an isolated incident, I asked him what would happen if he asked the team to create their own solution to their problem – both long-term and short-term. So who really owns the work and the results…? Is it John or does responsibility lie primarily the team? Where did he want the ownership of the work to reside?

He took my challenge, and met with the team in a new way… he focused on listening versus telling. There were no magic answers in the meeting – but several team members applauded John for allowing them to discuss the issues, and to map out potential solutions. As John listened more carefully to the group – he began to understand where communication among the team members was breaking down. No big surprise. John was beginning to recognize how to let his team create their own solutions and processes moving forward. Our ongoing plan includes work with the direct reports both individually and in small group sessions to create solutions and structures to improve the team communication and effectiveness. And most importantly… to firmly establish ownership of the agreed upon solutions within the team.

I find that many of my leadership clients struggle to let go of “doing” the work of the team, or telling the team “how” to do the work. Many leadership promotions are still awarded to the best “doers” and “achievers”. And there is seldom a list of ‘to do’s’ on a new leader’s plate that spells out specifically how to shape a vision and strategy, and engage a team differently than imitating a past success from a managerial role. A great leader is not simply an advanced form of a manager role. Re-framing and re-defining success within the leadership role is required. And frequently it involves knowing what to let go of – especially difficult when those are typically the things that created the very success prompting the promotion to leadership. As Leadership guru Warren Bennis reminds us “The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.”

So what does this mean to those of you who are in leadership roles, or aspire to that next level position and want to make sure you are stepping up to “lead” and not simply manage your teams? Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions. Your answers will help you determine if you are leading and not just managing...

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  1. To what extent are you focusing on broad patterns, finding connections, looking out to the future and shaping the vision to create the engagement and motivation to move your team to achieve?
  2. To what extent are you creating a space that encourages learning and development versus simply creating control and compliance?
  3. To what extent are you consciously impacting the emotional energy around you? Are you aware of the real impact you have on others?
  4. To what extent are you focused on the "what" and not the "how"?

"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall"
Stephen Covey


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If you’re looking to make a change in your life or business and are feeling overwhelmed or don’t know how to proceed to get the results you’re looking to achieve, I’d love to talk with you. I help leaders to successfully navigate the challenges of making change to achieve the results they want. Visit my website for details, free resources and to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your needs.


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