The terms “manager” and “leader” are often used interchangeably, but they are also often confused and misinterpreted. Management has always had a dictatorial connotation and implied a boss/employee relationship. It was based on an autocratic style with systematic rules and guidelines. Warren Bennis, one of the most recognized businessmen in the 21st century, states that today most employees are over-managed and under-led. That statement in itself acknowledges that there is a distinct difference between management and leadership.

Leadership today must create value, generate creativity, inspire innovation and communicate a compelling vision for the future. Managers in the true sense of the word are a dying breed. Today our managers must also have leadership skills. Managers often shoulder the blame for failure - some justified, some not. When I have done turnarounds for financially troubled companies in every company I dealt with that was in trouble, the problem was not the managers. The problem was generally with the leadership that existed at the top of the organizational chart.

Middle Management

Middle managers might be the most undervalued and the most misunderstood species in modern times. They seem to get most of the blame and the least of the glory, whether in compensation or credit for success. Some experts have actually promoted the concept of eliminating middle management, promoting technology as the new middle manager. Every organization needs to put a priority on developing their managers’ leadership skills so that we can maximize the success of all our employees. We also need to empower our middle managers by removing some of the policy restrictions often created by our longing to hold on to past autocratic styles of leadership.

Companies can no longer afford middle managers that are simply gate keepers, policy administrators and directors. Managers at all levels in the organization must become leaders in their own right, forming their own models of leadership that encompass their functional role as managers. Every company must provide role clarity for all their managers. Most of these managers are capable of becoming effective leaders while managing their specific functional responsibilities. We need to support them through leadership education and training. Those few that don’t have the ability to develop their leadership skills need to be replaced.

Consider the following actions:
  • Promote a mindset in management that their role is one of leadership first and management second.

  • Encourage them to evaluate their personal roles in the context of ensuring their actions are always in alignment with strategic initiatives.

  • Create a culture promoting the servant style of leadership and empowerment.

  • Create a leadership training program for all managers that incorporates coaching skills.

  • Define departmental roles clearly in terms of service to both internal and external customers.

  • Focus on promoting customer value, not just compliance.

  • Create both a scorecard and program for acknowledgement of success.

Managers are different from leaders. They have different skills sets. Companies need both. Managers need to develop their leadership skills, and leaders at the very least must understand management requirements. More than 90% of the reasons companies fail can be traced to ineffective leadership. It’s not because of the economy and it is not because of the competition. It is a failure to learn. Effective leadership will overcome these obstacles. Every organization needs to put a priority on developing their managers’ leadership skills.