• Brent Kaneft

The Difference between Managing and Leading

I get tired of thinking about leadership sometimes. There's so much written about its qualities that you might think everyone, all of your colleagues and friends, aspire to take the reins and charge "once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more." Not everyone wants to be a leader, but many people think they're leading when in actuality they're just managing. Managing isn't leadership. And so you know, I'm not a big fan of managing. People will argue that managers are necessary to run a company (or a school), but I have a hard time seeing how. In this post, I want to explore the distinction between managing and leading.

Qualities of a Manager:

1. Managers get overwhelmed easily. Why? Because managers like control, and, in general, control is not easy to come by in our world. Technology has provided the illusion of control, but life is more chaotic than orderly, and managers have a difficult time with that fact. When chaos presents itself, managers ask "how" they can control it.

2. Managers love to check boxes. Checking boxes feels great, like things are getting done. Managers often take stock in how many boxes are checked daily. They can become whirlwinds in the office and convince themselves that doing everything themselves is leadership. For the record, sometimes leaders, too, need to take this approach, but leaders know this approach isn't sustainable. The important question is "why" you check boxes. Managers check boxes because they need control. Leaders check boxes because they are inspired by the direction the organization is heading and these are the boxes that need checking before they can move forward.

3. Managers see the people they manage not as assets, but as cogs in the machine. They get frustrated when people "just don't do their jobs," and believe if people did what they were told — which usually translates as following the step-by-step instructions of the fourth mass email they sent that morning — the company or institution would be better. I've never heard anyone say they love to be managed, to have their hand held at work. For the company to improve, employees must be inspired.

4. Managers don't inspire their colleagues. Often I find that inspiration is lacking in managers because they've worn themselves out trying to handle everything. I hear managers all the time confess how much they love their work and the mission of their (in my case) school, if only they had more time to feed that inspiration (i.e. read books, reflect, talk to their colleagues). This is a sad case and often the downfall of perfectionists. If you are a perfectionist, you already have a tendency to manage.

Qualities of a Leader:

1. Leaders don't get overwhelmed easily. When chaos happens, leaders are invigorated. They've abandoned any notions of control and have therefore removed it from the options in their playbook. Leaders ask "why" the chaos is happening in the first place. They want to know the source of confusion or frustration or unhappiness that's causing the chaos. Once they pinpoint the source, they move forward with confidence.

2. Leaders don't measure their success by checking boxes. They measure their work by the happiness of the people they lead, by the satisfaction of their customers, or by the office environment. Spend thirty minutes inside any office and you will know whether the boss is a leader or a manager. Is it always quiet? Is everyone siloed or cubicled off, in their own worlds?

Not exactly scientific, sure, but every office (or school) has a feel to it, and I think that's related to who's at the top.

3. To a leader, people are the greatest asset in a company (or school). No employee is the same, and leaders look to exploit (in the best possible sense of that word) each employee's strengths. Leaders address an employee's motivation before they address the effectiveness or quality of their work. Leaders find ways to help their employees improve their skills. And, most importantly, leaders never participate in the water cooler conversations about how incompetent an employee is. Shocker — they lead, which means they know where they're (i.e. the organization is) going. They don't have time to convince people to do their jobs. Leaders spend time making sure everyone knows where they are going and why and only then do they address what skills will be needed for the journey.

4. Leaders inspire their colleagues, and to do that, they must stay inspired themselves. They take time to read, to reflect, and to talk to their colleagues. Leaders love to learn from every resource available. They never stop learning.

One more thing about leaders that's important: they have their priorities in order. They cut their phones off at home, they wait to answer or send an email until the next day, and they recharge their batteries with family time or exercise or vacation. If your boss is constantly sending out emails even after hours, it's because he's a manager, not a leader. Leaders are confident that their inspiration and role modeling are enough to keep things moving in the right direction, even when they're not at the office. Managers are terrified when they leave the office because they have a hard time giving up control.

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