Understanding the Importance of When to Lead vs. Manage

Do you understand what leadership muscles you need to flex to effectively lead and inspire your people to think for themselves?

Do you understand when you need to take a management approach by ensuring you have clearly explained your expectations and desired outcomes?

This is a discussion we have often with the leaders we support as both styles are critical to your success and your team’s success.

Defining Leadership vs. Management

Leadership is about how you motivate and inspire others to think for themselves, while supporting them along the way by being a sounding board, coach, and mentor for your people. It goes without saying that you must role model the behaviors you expect to see in others, as leadership is very much an inside-out-job.

You must be in a good place yourself before you can lead, motivate, and inspire others to perform and show up as the best version of themselves. Being self-aware, emotionally astute, and inclusive in your approach is key. 

This philosophy applies to both styles of leadership because in the absence of it, you might not be capable of flexing a different style or approach. It requires awareness, EQ and taking a genuine interest in the people you need to serve. You need to give them what they need, not what you think they need. When in doubt, ask them how you can best support them, and then be quiet, allow them to think freely, and they will tell you.

Management is often very task-focused, and it is critical that you are clear and concise in your communication as you define what is expected of your people. The definition of management is often described as being more hands-on and being willing to jump into the trenches with your people when they need you. 

It is your responsibility to provide direction, define expectations and desired outcomes for your people and then get out of their way and give them the autonomy they need to deliver. If they need your expertise and support, then offer it when required, but do not revert to using the old-school, command-style of leadership, as that will only disempower and disengage your people.  

Managing is about communicating clear and specific goals, objectives, and outcomes to our people. Sometimes that means we are “telling” and directing traffic on how things will get done because it is necessary. The key is knowing where to draw the line, so you do not come across as a micro-manager. 

Striking the Right Balance

Leadership is not primarily about what you do, it is more about who you are and how you are showing up for others. It is more about being than doing, more about simplicity than complexity. It is about authenticity and creating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves. 

Warren Bennis, who was a pioneer in the leadership space, summarizes the differences between leadership and management as follows:

  • Managers administer; leaders innovate
  • Managers maintains; leaders develop
  • Managers focus on systems and structure; leaders focus on people
  • Managers rely on control; leaders inspire trust
  • Managers have a short-range view; leaders have a long-range perspective
  • Managers ask how and when; leaders ask why
  • Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing

The most effective and impactful leaders know how to pivot between leading and managing as both are equally important to create a high-performing culture within an organization. Leaning into only one style will create challenges for individuals and teams, and it will limit your ability to grow upwards on the leadership ladder.  

I am a raving fan of Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II Model as it does a great job explaining the importance of shifting our style based on the situation and task vs. the person or group. 

As leaders, it is critical that we give people what they need to be successful. When in doubt, ask them how you can help them and what they need from you to move forward. I often ask those who I coach and support, “How can I help set you up for success? What do you need from me and what would you like to focus on?” Then I sit quietly, and wait to hear what they have to say.

Leadership & Management Are Constantly Evolving

As leaders, we, too, are learning and growing alongside those we support. It is okay to not have all the answers and be a subject matter expert on all facets of the organization. Your job is to bring people together and collaborate on ideas and solutions. You are not expected to come up with solutions all the time. You just need to be authentic and vulnerable enough to create that safe space for others. 

What are your thoughts on this topic? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to me by emailing me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca or calling me at 1.855.871.3374.

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