The Article Made Me Do It
I didn’t want to write this post; I didn’t plan to write yet another thing about the definition, value and distinctions of management and leadership. I thought we were passed this (by “we” I refer to the collective group of leadership and management development professionals, educators and organizations out here).
After reading a wonderfully well-intended article this morning, I learned that we are not. So if you are clear on the definitions and distinction and either currently are or have ever been one of my colleagues, clients, students or in any of my leadership workshops, you have surely already heard this – I ask you to bear with me; one of the articles I read this morning made me do it.
While well meaning with applicable and beneficial learning points, the article (which I’ll keep unnamed) used the phrase “managing others” in reference to the need to expand the definition of leaders beyond those who “manage others” to those who positively impact their organizations and teams in meaningful ways.
That Mindset Caused Me to Cringe Inside
I would not have cringed inside except for the fact that the more I read, the more I realized that this was not just semantics and a difference on word choice. No. It was an outright mindset that really pushed forward the theory that we – people – could ever actually manage other people and do it effectively.
That mindset is a problem for me since most people cannot manage themselves, their own lives, their families, etc. How can you possibly be expected to manage another person or a group of people? Add to this that today’s employees are expected to (at least we say this in theory) actually make great contributions to our organizations and make their bosses look good? The more I read, the more compelled I became to write this post.
We Said the Leadership Landscape Was Changing
Yes, the leadership landscape has expanded (is theoretically expanding), but this article that was just published by a reputable and leading professional organization reminded me of how far we still have to go with simply defining leadership and distinguishing it from management. I educate students, facilitate workshops for professionals at all levels and provide consulting and executive coaching, and one thing I have been pushing against for at least 15 years is this notion that we would ever actually be able to effectively “manage” anyone.
Please Help Me
I am driven to change this reference (more importantly the mindset) on management and leadership, and I need you to help me.
If the “experts” in the field keep getting this wrong (or cannot agree) – on the basic definition, terminology and mindset – how do we or can we expect those who pay us or rely on us to get it right? So here it goes again…
Leadership and Management are both valuable and necessary, but they are different.
We manage THINGS such as programs, budgets, contracts, projects, processes and time. We lead PEOPLE. The idea of “managing” people just sounds demeaning in the 21st century. We can wear both hats, but we need to understand the difference so we appropriately flex between the roles. As leaders, our focus is on leading, coaching, guiding, mentoring or supervising people and managing all that other stuff. The distinction is real and it matters.
It Doesn’t Matter That You Supervise Employees
One can hold the title of manager and never actually have staff or employees under his direction because he is (shall I say it again) “managing” a program, a budget, a project, an enterprise (fill in the “thing” that he actually has control over and needs to direct, handle, oversee).
A leader needs others whom he can influence (some people call these followers) or impact in a way. It is not a requirement that these people be under his direct span of control in the normal supervisory lines, but they must be within his circle of influence. Leaders can – and do – lead down, across and up; we lead (influence) subordinates, colleagues, team members and superiors. This is why we now understand that leadership can and does happen at every level within an organization.
Management happens with one or more decision makers for a particular unit/department/division/organization where there exists a “Thing” to be managed, controlled, handled, directed or overseen. The unit/department/division/organization has a budget, program, service, contract or process (a thing) to be managed. However, the people within the unit/department/division/organization need to be (and I assert they prefer to be) led.
Leadership is about developing critical thinking, problem solving and process improvement skills in others and giving them the opportunity to apply these skills and have input on decisions. John Quincy Adams, the sixth United States president, defined leadership as “what we do whenever our actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.”
It is about helping ordinary people get extraordinary results (go ahead and plug in your favorite definition).
Leadership is charged to ask the questions that compel others (at every level) to consider choices, actually think and then provide recommendations to others.
Here’s the Wrap Up – then I am going on with my Sunday…
Manage THINGS, even manage yourself, but when it comes to other PEOPLE, we prefer words like lead, supervise, coach, guide, mentor, etc. It keeps the perspective away from trying to handle, oversee, direct or worse – control – other individuals. That would not be appropriate (except in extreme circumstances – safety, etc.).
People have their own minds and they have their own choices. We can try to influence and shape those choices and behaviors through leadership but not to direct and control them; that is what management is designed to do with “things.”
The whole notion of an ever-increasing knowledge workforce where people are being hired and paid to “Think” strategically, “Align” themselves with organizational missions and senior executives’ visions, and “Deliver” meaningful outcomes for internal and external stakeholders is predicated on the idea (and hopefully practice) of really having leaders develop other leaders and pull from the talent all around them (above, across and beneath their own positions of authority). Do you see why our collective workforce of knowledge workers and strategic thinkers need your help?
Okay, maybe this really will be the last time I write on this topic. I’d love to know what you have to say about the matter. Share below…
by Terina Allen
President & CEO, ARVis Institute
Chair, ARVoices Strategic Leadership Network