Leading vs Managing — An Introduction

(This is the first in a series of posts on “leading vs managing.” If you want to keep up, signing up for the newsletter is the best way. /shamelessplug)

leading-vs-managing-ab-1-728There is a great site on the interwebz called Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition. It’s Don Clark’s site about leadership, learning, training, and performance improvement. There is a quiz on there about today’s topic, and the quiz includes two statements that you have to rate in importance:

Nothing is more important than accomplishing a goal or task.
Nothing is more important than building a great team.

Of course, everyone taking the quiz asks how both of these can be true, and Don answers from his Army days —

One of the mottos of the U.S. Army is “People and mission first.” That is, nothing is more important than accomplishing the mission and nothing is more important than looking out for the welfare of the people. A good leader can do both!

That, in a nutshell, is the these for today’s article: A leader’s job is to Lead the People and Manage the Work, and you have to do both well to be successful. Let’s explore this.

Managing the Work

This part of the job is simple to understand: you have been given a team in order to deliver a certain body of work or accomplish a certain goal, and if you don’t lead them to do that, then you have failed on this part of your job. Every annual assessment addresses this in some way, whether it is “Drives for Results” or “Focus on Tasks” or whatever. And, in most organizations, those leaders whose teams deliver get promoted, and regular failure to deliver is a sure path to a quick exit from leadership.

The problem is, quite frankly, that many leaders got promoted not because they could get others to do the work, but because they were so good at doing the work themselves. We look at someone who turns out great work in large quantities, and what do we do? We move them into leadership, and assume their skills will transfer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many excellent individual contributors are so good because they are working in their comfort zone — that place that combines passion, talents, skills, and strengths. The work comes so naturally to them that they have never had to think about how they learned to do it, or even more, how to teach others.

Then they suddenly have a team, and they have to learn a whole new skill set: resource allocation, work tracking, project management, delegation. And, they have to stop what they are good at: doing the work themselves!

I’ll have more to say about managing the work in future leadership posts, but for now let’s just say this:

If you are a leader of a team, part of your job is learning the skills and practices necessary to get the most production out of that team over time.

Now let’s turn to the other side of the coin — the side that many leaders forget to do.

Leading the People

You may be asking yourself, “If I lead the people to deliver, isn’t that leading the people?” Short answer: no, that’s just managing the work. Long answer: no, and if you don’t figure out this part of the job, eventually you’ll have no people to deliver the work.

“Leading the people” is short-hand for all of the human-person-centered skills, tasks, and processes that you need to learn and do in order to both build a great team and build up the people on that team. Here are just a few examples:

  • Developing and communicating a mission and vision
  • Career and development planning and execution
  • Team development, including team dynamics
  • Relationship-building with each person on your team
  • Coaching, feedback, recognition

If you are reading that list and feeling uncomfortable, don’t feel bad — many people who go into leadership get there because they were great at the work (as noted above), not necessarily because they were great at people skills. And, most leaders, even the ones who are naturally extraverted and gregarious, still have to learn to do these things well.

But here’s the bottom line: You can get a fairly quick bump in work delivery by being demanding, or a martinet, or focused only on the next deliverable or report. However, that bump is as fleeting as the weight loss on a fad diet. If you want to have a team that becomes great and stays great over time, you have to learn to lead the people at the same time you learn to manage the work. You have to do both, or ultimately you will fail.


What about you? Are you good at leading the people, managing the work, or both? How did you learn to do them? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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3 Responses to Leading vs Managing — An Introduction

  1. Bruce says:

    Just an FYI: the excellent “Leading vs Managing” image comes from the Andrew Bennett presentation on Slideshare of the same name. Check it out at http://www.slideshare.net/AndrewBennett/leading-vs-managing-ab

  2. Pingback: Leader, Manager, Predator, Shepherdbrucewriter.com

  3. Pingback: Are You Leading or Managing? Are You Sure?brucewriter.com

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