If you are confused about whether you should be managing or leading, you are not alone!
Some of the questions I hear from emerging leaders include:
Here's the scoop - no matter what stage of the leadership journey you are in, you need to show up both as a manager, and as a leader. Anything less will limit your effectiveness and impact.
Leadership activities are those focused on creating a vision of growth or transformation. Usually for something better or more advanced than it is today. Then, compelling others to believe in that vision by painting a picture for a better tomorrow. And then ... inspiring and motivating people to act, to come together and work towards achieving that vision - even if it is difficult or seems impossible.
In summary, leaders:
Management activities are in the practical realm of the actions and tasks needed to make it happen. That is, achieving 'it' - 'it' being the vision!
Management starts with developing a strategy for how all the pieces will fit together. Firstly, figuring out who those people are that need to be inspired! How many are needed? What skillsets and capabilities will they need? What additional training and development will they need? How will the people needed be found and who will assign them their roles and duties?
Management also includes designing, implementing, and maintaining the systems and processes necessary for bringing those people and their ideas into a cohesive plan and into an orchestrated, cost-effective effort as they work towards the vision.
And lastly, but not at all in the least, management includes the monitoring of progress, adjusting of the systems, and the focus as needed, so that the steps needed to reach the vision stay on target.
Phew! Looks like Managers might have the bigger load to carry here, eh!
What are some of the typical traits and skillsets of each?
The table below shows two lists of traits and skills typically associated with the management and leadership concepts.
Growing and developing in all of the skills listed below will be critical for you to advance in your leadership career. Yes, that's right - you need to be good at both management and leadership!
Indeed, it is in the blending of the two that real impact is made.
Able To Gain Trust
Upholds High Standards
I have found that management and leadership are often compared and contrasted as somehow being the opposite of one another. This is not a helpful comparison.
Management is often described positively as focused, strategic, and analytical, with some of the less positive descriptors being transactional, cold, and robotic.
Leadership is often revered with descriptors such as transformational, emotionally intelligent, and visionary, with some of the less positive descriptors being disorganised, flighty, and unfocused.
The importance for emerging leaders to dispense with these 'old fashioned' notions as they develop their own leadership impact style cannot be over emphasized. This is because by overly focusing on one set of skills and traits, one can inadvertently ignore the other set of skills and traits - leading to overly weak areas and blind spots that can stall career growth and development. As well as lead to poor outcomes for your team's morale and the performance of the business you direct.
The greatest leadership impact, and therefore the greatest opportunity for advancement, comes from blending the positive aspects of the two sets of skills and traits. Further, by paying attention to your human tendency to ignore your blind spots (and the skills that you are less comfortable with) you create the potential to accelerate your development and impact even more quickly.
Take another look at the skills and traits listed above, I am sure you agree that both columns of skills are needed throughout your management and leadership journey. Perhaps you can see some areas that don't come as naturally to you that you've been paying less attention to?
So how can you develop your own personal style and be both a manager and a leader at the same time?
For some people, it comes naturally to live in the 'in-between', to read the situation and switch from one state to another. For others, reading the situation comes easily, but the conscious switching to a different mode of behaviour and action can be challenging. And then for some, the ability to even see the need for the switch can be the hard part!
I believe that all of these skills can be developed where there is earnest intent and competent support through training, mentoring, and/or coaching.
In real life, most situations need a blend of something from the management column and something from the leadership column, so even without thinking about it, you are likely already blending these skills and traits.
An example of this might be that you are preparing to provide feedback for a direct report. Unfortunately, you've received some feedback for this particular individual that she is not a 'team player', yet on the other hand, you've also noted that she has delivered on all of her commitments and then some, going over and above in the past few months of performance in terms of deliverables.
All too often, managers and leaders in this situation will provide one sided feedback. And more often than not, will not take on the difficult conversation. However, this difficult conversation is a perfect example of a situation where blending actions from both sides of the table is needed.
As you prepare for this discussion you will need to call on the management side of the table as you uphold high standards in communicating to your direct report the feedback on her poor behaviours in a team setting, and resetting expectations for the standard with her. You will also need to draw on the leadership side of the table for emotional intelligence and the ability to maintain trust with her as you do this.
Managers and leaders who can develop the awareness and intentionality for striking this balance well will have the greatest impact on their own people's development and motivation, and in turn productivity, which will help deliver on superior business results.
So what steps can you take toward consciously blending both sets of skills and traits?
- 1Take stock of your own skills - how do you measure up on each of the skills listed in each of the columns in the table above? Be honest with yourself, get some feedback if necessary. Find an accountability partner who can help you.
- 2Select 2-3 skills that are your strongest and make a plan to continue to refine and hone those. Also, select 1-2 skills that are your weakest and develop a plan for closing the gap (these may not ever be your strengths, but you can markedly improve with concerted effort). Are there any other skills or traits not shown in the table above that might be a focus for you?
- 3Notice when you avoid certain situations or activities. Are there some tell-tales here for what you need to improve on?
- 4Check-in with your schedule at the beginning of each week and look for opportunities where you can intentionally practice a trait or skill from both sides of the table at once. Plan ahead to consciously take action in some areas that are natural to you, and in some areas that feel more challenging. Practicing will level-up your skills in the areas you are less comfortable in, as well as helping you to gain the ability to blend the two sets of skills seamlessly.
- 5Be patient with yourself, and consistent in your intentional practice. Plan to consciously check-in with yourself and your accountability partner in 3 months and take stock again.
Most of us will find a more natural fit with the skills and traits typically associated with the concept of either 'management' or 'leadership'. However, to be impactful and effective in any role, you need to be practicing the skills and displaying the traits of both. This means that you not only need to hone your strengths, but also confront the skills and traits that you are less comfortable with head-on.
With intentional practice, this will become an impactful habit for you, you will grow your capabilities, and you will position yourself for higher levels of responsibility and career advancement.
In other words, the most impactful managers are leaders too! And conversely, if you are not a good manager, you won't be a good leader.
If you haven't read the post on the five stages of the leadership journey, you can find it by clicking here, it has some more details and information about the characteristics for each stage of the leadership journey that you may find complimentary to the information in this post.
Supporting you on your leadership journey,