Lead or Manage, and Get Out of the Way!
The Difference Between Leading and Managing, and
Why it Matters to You

by Stephanie Cirihal

In the current de-layered business climate, many managers and leaders are required to fill both roles for their organizations. Many managing roles are called "leaders" and the line between the two is severely blurred. What seems to have developed is this idea that managers "graduate" to leaders when they acquire a certain level of business savvy or sophistication. Further, with the declining emphasis on employee development and potential, the actual managing responsibilities of managers have dwindled and are no longer the focus of their jobs. The problem with this phenomenon is that there IS a difference between leading and managing, and both roles are crucial to the success of an organization.

The "most important difference between a great manager and a great leader," according to Buckingham and Coffman, 1. "is one of focus." Leaders must focus on the outside world, setting strategy, participating on business teams, and making decisions. They need a skill set of looking at the big picture and distilling it down to an organizational plan. By the Gallup Strengthfinder, they need the strengths of Strategic, Woo, Activator, Command, Self-Assurance, and Futuristic. Managers, on the other hand, focus inward. They are needed to take the potential of each person in the organization and develop it to the fullest. They take the organizational plan and with their knowledge of the talents of each employee, resource them appropriately to meet the goals. They need the skills of Individualization, Developer, Arranger, Relator, Focus, and Self-Assurance. These are quite different skill sets.

It is very difficult, if not impossible to do both of these jobs well. Have you ever known a great leader that was a poor manager, and vice versa? I bet you have - in fact, I have never known anyone who was gifted at both. So, if we assume that we only have real talent in one or the other, which are you - Leader or manager? More importantly, which role does your organization expect from you?

The solution to this problem starts with self-awareness about which skills we have natural talent for and those we don't. It is in your best interest to figure this out for two reasons:

  1. If you are not clear on the differences between leading and managing and the skills needed for each, you may not be performing to your highest potential.
  2. If your organization expects you to lead, and you are managing (or vice versa) you will struggle to excel in your role and make a difference in your organization.

We see this every day. Great managers who now have so many direct reports that they no longer can focus on developing talent and end up (unsuccessfully) trying to lead. They struggle, but they are not clear on why. They are in a fuzzy role, with fuzzy expectations, and they do not know their own strengths. You can determine your natural strengths and tendencies very easily with assessments such as the Gallup strength profile at http://www.strengthsfinder.com/ or more traditional assessments such as the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator at www.advisorteam.com.

If the first step is to determine what is expected of you in your role and what your natural talent is (managing or leading), the next step is to redefine your role to orient around your strengths. This sounds much easier to say than to do, but if you don't initiate the change, who will? No one else is going to evaluate your role against your strengths and recommend changes that would benefit you as well as your organization. To do this, make a skill inventory of your strengths and compare it to the tasks you are expected to perform in your role. What strengths or skills are needed for these tasks? Where is there overlap? Where are their gaps? This careful analysis can shed some light on any struggles you experience in your role, as well as clarify what changes to your role are needed. Changes can include a development plan to acquire different skills, or even more effectively, delegating those tasks in which you do not have natural talent to someone who does.

You owe it to the people you lead or manage to be clear about what you are doing and what you are good at. So, lead or manage, but get out of the way.

1. "First, Break All the Rules," Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman, Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Stephanie Cirihal is a professional, solution-oriented coach who develops human solutions for organizations and the people in them. She offers a free e-zine and coaching session on her website, located at www.solutionscoach.net.

Many more articles on Coaching, Performance Improvement, Creative Leadership and Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Stephanie Cirihal. All rights reserved.

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