It’s a Tough Job…

I recently read a LinkedIn post that I want to explore a little more deeply. It caught my eye because it was about turnover, but it went a different direction than most posts on turnover do. The writer makes a direct connection between turnover and the caliber of management skills and identifies high turnover not as a “people problem” or a “millennial problem”, but as a management problem and says that people aren’t investing any longer in high quality management skills.  

I have to quote here:  “Management is a humbling responsibility that is highly undervalued in business today. There is a difference between management and leadership; many want to lead, few want to spend the time to be great managers of people.” Agreed!

There is a difference between leadership and management and unfortunately, management gets the short end of the stick. Consider these quotes:  

  • If you want to get ahead, you have to show up as a leader – not a manager.
  • Managers have people who work for them, while leaders have a sea of talent ready to follow in their footsteps.
  • Managers rely on positional authority, whereas leaders exercise interpersonal influence.
  • Managers like to control, while leaders inspire trust.
  • Managers focus on execution, while leaders focus on developing and empowering others.
  • Managers dole out tasks, while leaders share a vision that‘s motivating and meaningful.

Do you see the theme here? Management is, at best, portrayed as leadership’s poor relation, toiling in the shadows, doing the grunt work. It’s a lot like Cinderella before the fairy godmother shows up. Leadership is the Prince Charming that everybody wants to be with. 

These present as a duality – that managers exist opposite and separate from leaders; that managers are autocrats barking orders to people who have to follow them because of job titles. I’ve met plenty of people through the years who did things that way, but called themselves leaders; I don’t know many who followed them willingly.

I would posit that this is more of a spectrum – there are  managers like the ones described above – and there are leaders who can inspire but who can’t manage their way out of a paper bag. There are leaders with no management skills and managers with no leadership skills, but the best are both.  

I have had the great good fortune to work with some incredible leaders, and yes, I’ve worked with managers that were a lot like the ones described above. The people who have inspired me have been the ones who were both, but the ones that I have admired the most are the ones who have been able to make things happen – the managers. 

Done well, managing people is HARD. Managers assimilate a lot of information, prioritize it and make decisions on what’s best for their organizations. They know how to both create a plan and work that plan in order to execute what needs to be done. They don’t do all of this on their own – most importantly, they understand that the people they work with are their best resource, and they know how to deploy those resources to make things happen. They are like a pilot flying a plane but their instruments are people – managers fly that plane and bring it in for the landing successfully.

Good managers hold the tough conversations and they keep things moving forward. They make decisions about who stays and who goes. I think this is one of the reasons that managers get the bad rap and are perceived as autocrats who like to boss people around. That’s unfortunate – while those managers do exist, good managers are working to do the right things for the right reasons, and they do these things as positively as they can. While nobody likes to have those conversations, sometimes they have to happen.

Some of the best managers don’t see themselves as leaders because they don’t need to be out in front of things. They frequently don’t work front and center where their efforts are seen by all. It can be easy to overlook people who are or can be good managers because we are all too busy trying to identify the leaders.  

The lure of leadership is strong – the gentleman who wrote that post is right about that. But leadership without management is a bit of an empty shell. In a room full of leaders nothing is going to get done until or unless one of them has the management chops to make it happen.

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