Leaders and managers are often used interchangeably to describe roles within organisations; and both are necessary for organisational success. Both roles involve supervising people. At times a leader may be required to manage people and likewise, a manager may be required to lead. This is possibly confusing, however, it’s not the titles but rather the philosophical differences between leading and managing that I’m interested in. Managing focuses internally on ways to manage their people and processes. On the other hand, leading focuses on growth and looks outwards at the people the organisation serves. In this sense, managing and leading oppose each other and their balance will largely determine whether the organisation contracts or expands.

Managing Focuses Internally on People, Process And Past Performance

A manager is mainly concerned with process and performance. Compliance with process is music to a manager’s ears. Good quarterly outputs indicate the performance was good. To a manager, it is clear that the processes are working. Wonderful! Keep going. However, this is like driving with our eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror. The manager is looking at where we’ve been rather than where we’re going. It’s reactive not pro-active, and uses past performance to indicate future performance.

Similarly, poor numbers indicate poor performance. Conclusion, either our process isn’t working or our people aren’t performing. A managerial approach maybe to start tweaking our processes and add some more compliance measures. No doubt, this will help keep our people on track. However, adding compliance often makes the process more onerous and may ultimately have the opposite effect to what was intended. Perhaps some training is also needed. Then, if modifying the process and/or training doesn’t improve performance then the problem must be with our people; they’re unmotivated. Unfortunately, a manager doesn’t have a lot of tools in the toolkit to motivate people and it’s usually a ‘carrot or stick’ approach. Inducements may work but will cost to implement. Threats of job or income loss may also be used to enhance performance. However, these strategies actually do more harm than good. They fracture relationships, cause insecurity and ultimately, are demotivating. The challenge with these approaches is they focus on the process and output rather than on the relationship and what the person actually needs.

Leading Focuses on Relationships and the Future

Unlike a manager, a leader focuses on relationships and the future. A leader makes the effort to get to know their people and looks for ways to motivate with inspiration and aspiration. A leader wants to develop and support their people to become the best version of themselves. This is leadership. A leader is empathetic, so when performance issues arise they focus on their relationships. They become inquisitive and ask the people involved “Are you okay? How I can support you? What do you need from me” In other words, rather than taking their people to task or resorting to punitive measures, a leader takes the responsibility for performance failures and what they will do to resolve them. A leader’s power exists in being responsible. Similarly, when things are going well, rather than be satisfied that our processes and people are okay, a leader looks to the future and asks, “How can we improve? What’s the next step in our evolution?”

A Leader Focuses Externally and Engages With Stakeholders

Imagine an organisation is contracting due to falling income. Staff are leaving and looking for opportunities elsewhere. A manager sits at his desk, staring at spreadsheets all day, moving numbers around trying to figure out how the budget can be made to work to keep staff and fulfil on the organisation’s goals. All the focus and energy is inwards. How will we survive? How do we increase efficiency? When all the focus is inwards there is only one way to go and that is to contract further. In contrast, a leader actively engages with staff and other stakeholders to create ways for the organisation to evolve or re-invent itself and become more relevant. A leader is clear why the organisation exists and why their service is crucial. Rather than focus on budgets and efficiency, a leader wants to discover what else customers want and what or how new services can best be provided to them. The focus is outwards on the client and “how can we serve you best?” With the leader out there and actively engaging with stakeholders beating this drum, it is likely the situation will not only recede the organisation will thrive into the future.

Do you look for ways to evolve in the service of others? Here’s a small challenge to you. At work today, ask three colleagues what they want to be acknowledged for and acknowledge them for this. Then ask them what is their career aspiration and if they could, what would they change around the workplace? This is leading. This is what a leader does. They get interested in the people around them.

Do you want to transform yourself leadership and learn to lead effectively? Contact me today for a complimentary discovery session to explore the value of 1:1 coaching.