Leadership vs Management

Considering the recently concluded, mayhemic (I just invented a word because it deserves one) year of 2020. I recognised that 2021 is going to need to be something of a spectacle in terms of rebuilding, talent and innovation. One thing about 2021 is certain, we are going to need a huge pool of talent to bring the future forward and out-create the devastation of 2020.

I posed a question to a very good friend of mine who I felt had the most relevant experience, as the former CIO of Telstra, to answer:

"What is your viewpoint on the difference between a leader and a manager? They seem to be regularly confused as one-in the same, but what are the defining characteristics of these two invaluable human resources?"

From his many years of experience leading a team of over 2000 staff at Telstra, this is what Frank Loriente had to say...

Some people will be surprised to know that they are not the same thing. We have many examples where we promote people into management roles that have little or no leadership experience or potential.

What is the difference?

It’s simple and all in the title. A leader takes you somewhere different, they paint an exciting picture, generate enthusiasm for the vision, set the direction and take (lead) you there. Leaders are critical for companies that are starting up, looking to grow or generally want to progress in a new direction.

A manager on the other hand keeps you in the same place. They have a steady pair of hands, can keep things under control and can be depended on to deliver a known output. An example of where you need a good manager is in a factory production line, where control and repetition is required to deliver the output.

What makes a good leader?

Strong leaders typically have a number of personal traits.

They have a high sense of achievement, are self-motivated and have strong humanistic behaviours. They encourage others to do well and are not competitive with those they work with. They typically are unconventional in their thinking (although conventional thinking is ok when appropriate) not overzealous about following rules (challenges the status quo) and have very low tolerance of avoidance behaviours. They prefer to work in a cohesive environment and do not try to impose their power or authority over others.

A good leader will draw people to them because they have an open mind and value other people’s opinion. They will generally have a positive attitude and make people around them feel good about themselves. They insist on excellence and lead by example holding themselves and those around them accountable for their actions and their outputs. People will often confide in them because they are good listeners and are trusted with being able to have a frank and open conversation without fear of retribution. They will offer counsel to their colleagues and not just on matters related to work.

An effective leader will know about the personal circumstances of each of their team members as it’s important to understand what makes each person tick and what may be affecting their work performance. Whilst it may not be obvious why we need to do this, I call this building up credits in the ‘Emotional Bank Account’. It’s important that you make frequently deposits into the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ because there will be times where you will need to make withdrawals, such as asking someone to go the extra mile to meet a timeline or deliverable. This is not always achievable if the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ is in deficit.

There are many facets that make up a good leader and I’ve only touched on a few above, but if you exhibit these behaviours consistently, chances are you have the key attribute to be an effective leader.

Can Leadership be learned?

There’s an old saying, leaders are not made, they are born. This may be true to an extent, but the reality is that leaders are rarely, if ever, born. Not everyone aspires to be a leader and it’s important to understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Can you imagine a world where everyone was a leader? Nothing would ever get done. But leaders can be developed through a combination of circumstance, personal development and persistence. There are no shortage of leadership books and professional development programs available that can assist, but real leadership is learnt by doing.

How do I know if I’m an effective leader?

One of the biggest challenges for an effective leader will be their ability to take their team on the journey with them. To do so they will need to be clear in their communications, be able to clearly articulate their vision and know what changes need to be made. They will also be able to articulate the reasons why the changes need to occur and the key steps required to get there. They must be clear about the benefits and equally importantly the consequences of not moving in the stated direction.

Now it must be said that not everyone will buy into the vision and many will resist the changes. A strong leader will bring their team willingly on the journey, but they shouldn’t exhaust too much energy on those who resist. There’s a saying that goes something like this…. you need to either “Change the People” or “Change the People.” Embrace and encourage those who willingly want to become change agents and move on those who aren’t.

If you have high staff retention, are consistently meeting your key deliverables/milestones and have a high level staff engagement then chances are you are an effective leader. Time to take a bow.

What if I don’t have leadership potential?

Well that’s fine. Not everyone can be a leader, nor do we want everyone to be a leader. A good manager is still a highly regarded asset in any organisation.

Every organisation needs people with strong management experience who can marshal the troops to deliver consistent outcomes. Someone who can plan, schedule, monitor and execute tasks. Someone who can set up team structures with clear accountabilities to ensure team success. Someone who can manage budgets, report to stakeholders and deliver shareholder value.

A good manager may not have all the attributes to be an effective leader, but they need to be mature enough to recognise that others within their team maybe be able to fill the leadership void and then let them do so.

Who are considered more valuable? Managers or Leaders?

The truth is that every successful organisation has a good mix of both.

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