Not so long ago, I nearly became embroiled in a bitter controversy on social media, and it was all about leadership. The gist of the conversation I joined was typical of what one sees currently, which was that we ought to ‘just say no’ to management, and YES to leadership, because you shouldn’t manage people, only lead them.
Now trust me…I get the sentiment. The main reason why I became a certified coach and leadership consultant is because I am convinced that strong servant leadership transforms lives and organizations. AND I know that there’s ONE thing I can say about leadership that is completely, 100% true and that’s that it means something different to everyone!
Just Google ‘leadership’ if you don’t believe me and you’ll see that although most of us think it’s very good and we want it, we don’t know how to define it, get it, build it, and keep it. We know it when we don’t have it, that’s for sure! But ask any set of ‘experts’ whether leadership is set of behaviors, qualities, or traits; you’ll get quite a range of responses. In other words, is being a leader something you are, or something you do? (Depends). Then ask if they are innate or learned, and the extent to which you can increase one’s quotient of leadership? (Depends). Finally, ask if there are different types of leadership and when you should use each one. (Totally depends). See? It’s not exactly cut and dried.
Management, on the other hand, is getting a proverbial punch in the nose right about now. Everyone hates it! Well, that’s not quite fair. We think that ‘processes’ should be managed, and ‘work’ should be managed, but the word straight from the mouth of some of the greatest thought leaders of today is that people should NOT be managed…only led.
Hire smart people and they will manage themselves, we’re told. Policies and rules are demeaning and kill culture. Don’t get me wrong; I started my own business in part because I don’t like being ‘managed’, and I focused on organizational development rather than HR because I completely agree that some rules and policies are created to police the few percent who need policing and are a slap in the face to honest workers of integrity. I’ve had my life changed by a leader who looked past ALL my dysfunction and found the gold beneath a very rocky exterior and it changed the trajectory of my life. I’ve worked for a manager who cared for nothing more than the bottom line, and who treated me like a ‘resource’ – sometimes valued, sometimes not, but certainly not cared for in the sense that you’d care for an actual human being – and I didn’t enjoy that experience much.
But what I find curious is that as much as we denigrate management, or treat it as a second-class citizen to leadership, we still have organizational structures with supervisors and managers. We still appoint key points of contact to hire, train, schedule work, and to ensure people are paid, and presumably to ensure the work is being completed for less cost that the product is being sold for. At least, we should be doing that if we hope to stay in business.
Some of the ire directed towards management seem to indicate that people see management as a fear-based ‘stick-using’ discipline, while leadership is the carrot – where people are ‘motivated’ and ‘inspired’ into action. In my opinion, statements like this are not only needlessly divisive and confusing, they also imply laziness on both sides of the coin
If you are a leader, and you don’t understand the systems and processes of your business, even at the highest levels, you will eventually frustrate and stress out your highest performers. Why? Because it’s their job to get results, and if you don’t share that mission with them and provide tangible assistance to them in getting there, all your inspiring and motivating will eventually feel empty. If you are a manager who does understand the systems and processes and knows how to conduct your business as profitably as possible but don’t care about the people who work for and with you, even you will eventually realize that the hostility, lack of innovation, and turnover of your best and brightest is directly attributable to, guess who – YOU.
The people who are suffering the most in all this are the new and emerging managers, of course. These poor souls are terrified of alienating the people whose work they’re responsible for by ‘managing them’ and are usually completely unclear on what it even means to be a manager and how to do it. I’ve seen first time managers fail miserably because they took the concept of ‘not doing people’s thinking for them’ to the extent of completely disengaging from the actual work produced and focusing only on their subordinates’ emotions and personal well-being. And even though their followers thought these managers were very nice people, they quickly categorized them as irrelevant to actually helping them doing their jobs better. And they were.
I know I’m somewhat of a lone voice in the wilderness on this issue, but I’ve been around long enough to see time and time again that the leaders who change companies, change lives, and even change the world, do NOT think management is beneath them. They know that words without positive actions are just words at the end of the day, and that once you have the hearts and the minds of the people if you don’t help them do what it is they should be doing, to the best of their ability, you will be of no use to them in hard times. And isn’t that when we really need a leader?
I hope you found this article useful and are interested in learning more about training first managers, please visit us at www.todaysleadershipsolutions.com and for a free new-supervisor assessment, please click here!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org