Management 101: When to lead and when to manage

23 May 2023, 09:36 AM
Management 101: When to lead and when to manage

Think back to the most inspiring managers you’ve had in your life, or even the most inspirational teachers? How did it make you feel and how did it impact your commitment?

I imagine the ones you remember inspired and motivated you, you will have felt they listened to and valued and as a result you felt more committed and focussed. Now reflect on how you are with your teams - do you feel you are more inspiring leader or hands-on manager?

Let’s explore the difference between leadership and management.

Imagine your vision is to create a wild flower meadow and you have a team of people to do the hard work. A manager would give a specific list of instructions and tasks to each person - ask them to drill the soil, to plant the seeds in specific way and to water it precisely. While a leader will share his vision of a beautiful colourful meadow, rich in biodiversity and ask the team how you can work together collectively to make that dream a reality. Which do you think will get the best results?

A manager’s job is to set operational objectives and standards, but as a leader it’s your role to communicate the vision, the big picture, and share a purpose and values in a way that will appeal to your team and that will motivate them to get out of bed in the morning. If your ambition is to offer the best most memorable customer experience, or to create the most delicious quality cakes, what difference is that going to make to people, how are you going to do it and why should anyone believe you. In the corporate world this usually means creating and communicating mission, vision and purpose statements - the what we do, why we do it and what do we want to be known for; and communicating your values - the how do we do it.

You don’t need the carefully crafted statements you might see from big brands like Wholefoods or Waitrose, but do take time to answer those questions and share the results with your employees.

Another important quality of a good leader is to empower and enable staff, consulting with them, seeking and valuing their input and encouraging them to stretch and grow.

There is no right or wrong here, there’s a time and a place for both management and leadership. A good leader will be able to adapt depending on the person, the task, the context and the urgency. If you have a new starter with little experience, or none of the technical skill required for the job, then you will need to be more manager, giving clear instructions and checking in on progress. In an urgent situation, for example dealing with a difficult customer, again you many need to step in and manage the situation more closely. But when you are dealing with someone who is highly committed, whether or not they have the experience of skill, you can step back to a more supportive, coaching role, ask for their ideas and help them develop their skills.

Many of the managers I work with find themselves more at the directive managerial end of the spectrum, telling, showing, instructing, and often admit to micromanaging because it’s easier and quicker, but this is the fast track to creating low morale and unengaged teams.

So to develop more committed staff who will help you build a successful business, start to build a partnership with them, share your vision, encourage shared ownership of the big picture, be transparent in communication, trust, listen and value their views, foster collaboration and together you will see great results.

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