I thought long and hard about the title of this article. I wanted to call it “Two essential skills for business leaders” but that did not sound right when it is about managing as well. So I considered “Two essential skills for senior managers” but that did not include the leadership angle either. The problem is, we label ourselves as leaders or managers. There is nоt a term that covers both. But there should be.
Business people have to lead and manage. Think about a project you have worked on recently. There will have been times when you have been setting the vision or preparing a business case that describes the future state – that is leadership. But then there will also have been times where you have been writing reports, overseeing the work of your team, and controlling the budget. That is management. We switch in and out of leadership and management as the situation demands.
Let’s just quickly review the differences between leadership and management: I think that will make it clearer.
Managing: doing things right
Good managers make sure things are done right. That means being in line with operational policies and guidelines, following process, and with adequate governance. Management mainly involves:
- Scheduling tasks
- Scheduling resources
- Overseeing work
- Carrying out staff management tasks (e.g. approving holiday time, dealing with absences etc.)
The good thing about management is that there is normally a host of templates and processes to help you. For example, when you are managing people you will hopefully have an HR department to fall back on, with guidance provided about recruiting and performance management amongst other things.
Leading: doing the right things
Good leaders make sure that the team is working on the right things. Think about it: you can manage a team of customer service agents to generate great results, with hardly any wait time on the phone and good customer satisfaction scores, but if you are putting lots of energy into supporting a product that was decommissioned last month, you are not doing the right thing.
The difficulty with leadership is that there are not a host of templates and processes to help you. OK, there are tools you can use like steps for decision making but when it comes to leading people – this one falls on you.
Leadership includes activities like:
- Creating a good working culture
- Fostering an environment where people collaborate
- Inspiring others to innovate
- Sharing goals
- Setting the vision for the project, program, or business
- Ensuring that the team members know how their work contributes to strategy and that they are involved in meaningful tasks
Am I leading or managing?
Good managers and leaders – people who rise to the top of their field – do both. But they do nоt switch between the two formally. You do nоt lead before lunch and manage in the afternoons. You can lead and manage in the same conversation to an employee. Being able to flex your style and shift seamlessly between management behaviors and leadership behaviors is what makes it possible to get work done in the best possible way, and through the right people.
If you want to improve your leadership and management skills, you can start by looking around you at what your peers and managers are doing. I guarantee you will see some examples of management practice that you will choose to avoid. Equally, you will see some good practices that you will want to copy. Borrow liberally from what you see your role models doing, but do nоt try to copy them exactly. You will need to apply your own style in order to be that hybrid leader/manager in an authentic way.
Blending leadership and management will only make you better at your job. You might not even be consciously aware of what you are doing and when you are shifting, but start thinking about your own behavior and that of others and you will soon see the division. The trick then is to make that border as thin as possible so that you are leading and managing your team depending on what they need from you at the time.
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.