“Be a Leader, Not a Manager!” … Really?

by | Mar 16, 2017 | Collaboration, Development, Leadership, Management, Perspective, Self-awareness | 2 comments

There’s been a recent chorus of voices exhorting people to be “a leader, not a manager.” The contrast implies that being a manager is a second-fiddle, lower-level role.

(I think) I get what these voices are saying: Boldly go. Lead the charge, take risks, innovate, break new ground, etc. But this approach is, at the very least, short-sighted and could be potentially detrimental. Be careful what you ask for.

This is not semantics: “Leader” and “manager” are not relative levels of leadership ability, they are different sets of competencies.

Leadership without management is why many entrepreneurial organizations and leaders often fail. It’s why the teams of drive-hard-and-fast, get-it-done-yesterday leaders are fatigued, overworked, reactionary and can’t reproduce success. Because that’s the kind of stuff that good management prevents.

To be sure, this swings both ways. Prioritizing managing over leading means not producing results, getting bogged down in analysis and process, and not being flexible and adaptable when reality goes off-script.

The reality is that leadership and management are both necessary for anyone who’s in a position of directing others. Virtually any organization—big or small, complex or simple—will, at different times, require both.

Virtually any organization—big or small, complex or simple—will, at different times, require both.

“And Your Point Is…?”

Your team needs you to both lead and manage. So if you’re only really good at one of them, how are you going to get the other one done?

So What?

Management is all about creating consistency and predictability. Systems, processes, standards, measurement, schedules, organization.

Leadership is all about innovating and achieving. Redirection, agility, overcoming challenges, learning and development, growth, results, vision.

Your team needs you to both lead and manage. So if you’re only really good at one of them, how are you going to get the other one done?

At times they compete against each other. Most of the time, they provide a necessary balance; the organizational yin and yang that complements and keeps the organization on track. Emphasize either at the expense of the other, and you can almost guarantee the organization will struggle.

Most of the time, they provide a necessary balance; the organizational yin and yang that complements and keeps the organization on track.

The Big Picture

Instead of pitting one “label” against the other, we’d be far better served by encouraging people to grow and develop. If you’re a natural leader, dive into management with all the ferocity you can (even if you think it’s boring). If you’re a natural manager, start getting out of your comfort zone and push yourself harder. At least you’ll better appreciate it, and you’ll be clear about what your organization needs.

And, most of all, surround yourself with people who are not like you, then commit to collaborating with them. Find someone who yins when you yang.

Instead of pitting one “label” against the other, we’d be far better served by encouraging people to grow and develop.

Your Next Step

What will you do to improve your collaboration with those who yin while you yang?

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