I was reading a book recently regarding the difference between leading and managing. For a long time, I had assumed that they were essentially the same. I’ve come to find out that they’re vastly different in terms of how leaders and managers spend their day. A good leader is very involved. He or she doesn’t always worry about paperwork or busy work, but is more concerned with relationships and knowledge. A leader cares more about respect than anything else. An effective leader should be able to walk through the room, small talk with everyone in the office and be able to get more work done in that one walk-through than a manager gets done all day. For a leader, networking is the real work. He or she must have good relationships with employees, customers and vendors. The manager may handle the day-to-day workings of the office, but it’s the leader who handles the big picture of the business.
This past October at NetworkASA I had a chance to visit Washington, D.C. There was no better place in which to find an example of a great leader. In D.C, we were all given the opportunity to meet with some of the congressional aides from our districts. However, one of the aides that I met with was having a difficult day - he was one of the few aides still left who was working for Edward Kennedy. I visited the office on a Thursday and the very next day they packed up the whole office. It would never be known as Senator Ted Kennedy’s office again. It was a trying time for him. Rather than talk policies, we mostly talked about the Senator.
When I sat down to write this column regarding managers and leaders, I knew immediately who the best example would be. I may not have agreed with all of Senator Kennedy’s policies or some of his decisions, but there is no way to argue with his leadership ability. Some of the Senators have staffs of more than 50 people yet they only meet with four or five of them. That may be an effective way to manage, but it is not always the best way to lead. On the other hand, Senator Kennedy would meet with every single aide. It didn’t matter if they had just started or were the top legislative director.
Senator Kennedy wanted to know everything that his aides knew - for two reasons. One, he wanted to make sure that they knew what they needed to know in order to work effectively for him. Two, if they knew anything he didn’t, he wanted to be taught. Senator Kennedy hated not understanding something. He drilled all of his aides regarding all of his positions on different policies. Even if it wasn’t their area of expertise, he still wanted them to have some general knowledge. This was evident as I met with an aide whose area of expertise was agriculture, yet he was able to answer questions regarding the estate tax very well.
This is not to say that being a leader is the only important thing within an organization. You need managers as well. The day-to-day workings of the office would be in disarray without a manager. The manager is an integral part of the structure of an organization. But there is no reason that someone cannot be both. Sometimes in smaller companies, or even within divisions of larger companies, you come across someone who has all the qualities of a leader, but has the ability to manage as well. That is the type of person who can handle everything that comes along and has the uncanny ability to see the future while working for today. This managing leader is not the norm - usually there is someone who manages and someone else who leads. Both are important and it helps an organization to find exactly who these people are.
Leaders aren’t just CEOs, presidents and warehouse managers. A leader can be anyone from an order packer to a salesperson. Take a snapshot of your day-to-day business and you’ll figure out very quickly who is the leader. A leader leads by example. So watch what your warehouse guys are doing. Who starts the activity, who is organizing lunch or maybe after-work drinks? These may seem like menial things when it comes to identifying a leader. But take the person who organizes these things and give him more “leadership” responsibilities and you’ll be amazed at how many people will follow him.
It’s more difficult to pick out a good manager than it is a good leader. But so often you’ll give a great leader a managing position and they won’t meet expectations. Not every leader can be a good manager and every company should plan accordingly. The good manager will be someone who is always able to complete their work on time and complete it with a higher quality than other employees. People like this will make sure that the job is always done. But you cannot always rely on these people to be great leaders. They may not be able to organize a group and find shared values between them. Without shared values (a common bond found between co-workers that gives them direction towards the goal of the organization) you’re going to have a lack of continuity in the work around your company.
Everyone in a division should be focused on a specific goal, whether it’s higher revenues or better customer service. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve as long as everyone is on board with the same goal. Leaders can get everyone on the same page. Managers are not always able to do this. It’s very important to have both managers and leaders and make sure that they work together.
A manager may have a title that puts him above a leader, but the manager needs his leader to unite the employees. A leader may have a title that puts him ahead of the manager, but the leader needs that manager to make sure that all the work is done correctly and on time.
Most likely in your organization these positions are already filled and you didn’t even realize it. People who are good managers and good leaders tend to gravitate towards these positions. But when a manager or a leader leaves, whether it’s through retirement or other circumstances, you need to make sure that you pick the correct person to take over. Think of the responsibilities of the job. Will this person have to constantly work with vendors, employees and customers? Then you need a good leader. Or will he or she mostly work with employees and be less in the public eye? Then you need a good manager. Remember, it’s possible to find both in one person, but that type of individual doesn’t come along often.
If you have to make a decision any time soon regarding a new managing or leadership position, just watch your employees. See how they interact with others and assess the quality of their work. That will help you determine if a person is better suited to lead or manage.