Managing Is Not Leading

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership, Managing Your Team

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my fourth: Managing Is Not Leading.

When I first went out on my own in business, I was extremely strategic in my decisions and actions. With my entrepreneurial mindset, I naturally looked for that “next step.”

I was also great at budgeting, project management, recruiting and other operational tasks.

But as the business grew, I unexpectedly stumbled.

It was harder than I’d anticipated to shift from managing to leading. I couldn’t pull myself out of the operational weeds, and it came with a cost. My business needed someone — me! — to articulate its strategy and inspire others to hop on board.

I wish someone had told me that managing is not leading!

As words, “management” and “leadership” are often used interchangeably. But they’re definitely not the same.

When you manage:

You focus on the day-to-day operations and metrics so your team or department runs smoothly. You and your staff get stuff done!

It’s your job to ensure staff understand what they are expected to do and have what they need (information, technology, collaboration, feedback, etc.) to do it.

And you make sure projects are completed on time and within budget.

When you lead:

You focus on the bigger picture for your company: vision, values, strategic direction and strategic partnerships. The nature of your work is to create or facilitate this bigger picture and communicate it throughout your organization.

You trust your managers to run daily operations. You expect them to provide you high-level updates, advise you of any problems (and opportunities) and propose solutions.

And you know what? Regardless of your actual job title, you are also the Chief Motivation Officer and Chief Inspiration Officer! In both good times and bad times, staff and managers look to you for championship, coaching, support and compelling reasons to stick with the company and its initiatives.

Get Your Copy:

My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “Managing Is Not Leading.”

As your business expands — or as you advance in your career — shifting from managing to leading means you don’t do the same operational work you used to do. It’s now done by other people.

Trust me, this shift can be really hard at first! But once you experience the widespread impact you can make as a leader, that shift will become much easier.

Want to explore ways you can successfully shift from managing to leading? The following Power Challenges will set the wheels in motion.

Power Quote:

“The true value of a leader is not measured by the work they do. A leader’s true value is measured by the work they inspire others to do.” – Simon Sinek

Power Challenge 1: Are You Managing … or Are You Leading?

Where do you fall along the management/leadership continuum?

Whether your formal title is “Manager,” “Director,” “Vice President” or something else, you may actually split your time between managing and leading. Especially if you’re a small business owner wearing multiple hats.

Consider this: Do you spend more time and energy focusing on day-to-day operations or on achieving your company’s mission and vision? Bet you can guess which is managing and which is leading!

The following responsibilities typically fall into the “managing” bucket:

  • You make sure your department runs smoothly. You regularly schedule team meetings to keep up to date with work in progress — and keep staff informed of any company updates.
  • When employees are juggling responsibilities, clients or projects, you help them prioritize their work.
  • You’re responsible for your group’s basic human resources activities such as onboarding new employees, preparing and delivering performance reviews, approving vacation requests, etc.
  • You set deadlines and parameters for projects. Your staff provide you with updates. When a project is complete, they submit it to you for feedback.

The leadership bucket looks like this:

  • You create the vision and strategy. You communicate them clearly and in a way that inspires your employees. (Think of it like this: If you’re going on a road trip, the manager makes sure there’s gas in the tank and everyone’s in the car on time. The leader knows the destination and milestones along the way.)
  • The company’s culture is yours to shape. You set the tone for the workplace environment — and you walk the talk!
  • The buck stops here! You take accountability for company results instead of blaming staff or lower-level management.
  • Your focus is more on people than things. You genuinely care about your managers and staff and support their development. You inspire and motivate people to be the best versions of their professional selves.

The bottom line? Don’t neglect leadership by focusing solely on management.

Power Challenge 2: Manage Less, Lead More

If you’re in a leadership position, what are some things you can do to shift from managing to leading?

First, make sure you have the right people in the right management roles. Trust them to do the things you’ve hired them to do, so you can focus on the bigger picture.

You’re not ditching your responsibilities — you’re delegating them. For example:

Employee: “Hey, we should do a four-day work week.”

You (Leader): “Oh, that might have merit. Have you spoken with HR?”

Manager: “Our team’s productivity is low because the main application we use is so glitchy.”

You (Leader): “Please share this with the head of Information Technology, and work together to explore both short-term and longer-term solutions.”

You (Leader) to Managers: “Please have your teams analyze our website analytics for the past three months. Then, propose at least one realistic goal for growth along with concrete ideas to achieve that growth.”

You now oversee others who attend to the day-to-day details of running a business.  You set them up for success.

Related: No, You Don’t Have to Know It All

Let’s say you’ve recently been promoted to Vice President, and you have a direct report who has several direct reports. As a leader, you should be dealing with your one direct report, not all of their direct reports. Respect the hierarchy, even if it’s informal.

Second, support your managers. Here are a few ideas:

Allow them to make mistakes — and learn. Think about the early days of your career. How were you treated when you made a mistake? What did you learn from your mistakes?</p>

Ask questions! Then listen. The best way to find out if your managers feel supported is to ask! (e.g., “How’s it going in the ______ department?” or “Do you have the resources you need — from me or others?”) Use active listening skills to ensure you hear what they’re saying.

Power Move:

Active listening means we recognize that to understand someone, we have to participate as a listener, not simply passively hear words. We put conscious effort into paying full attention, showing that we are listening, periodically checking our understanding, refraining from interrupting, and suspending judgment until we fully understand the message.

Share your experiences as a manager. It’ll show your managers your human side and perhaps inspire them to spread their wings as they develop their own leadership styles. Offer guidance or feedback. What might seem obvious to you might be new to them.

Let them do their jobs. Resist the temptation to micromanage! Hold your managers accountable. If they aren’t doing the work, don’t jump in and do it for them. Rather, figure out why. Problem-solve together.

Welcome their new ideas, and be open to discussing them. Don’t be quick to judge! Even if something seems too far-fetched or outlandish at first, hear them out. With a little fine-tuning, these ideas might be terrific! Ask specific questions to help weigh the facts and assess the ideas.

Keep your eye on the prize. While you’re not knee deep in the details anymore, you still need to watch the bottom line. Check in with your managers regularly. Offer feedback.

Power Question:

As you support others, who can you turn to for support?

Third, don’t forget to find your own support and leadership inspiration! Read books, listen to podcasts, attend workshops and webinars. Follow leadership experts on LinkedIn.

Network with other leaders who can relate to your challenges and victories.

And if your budget allows, consider working with an executive coach to help you  reach your leadership potential.

Lead Your Company to Success

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’re probably familiar with my favorite analogy about the gal who makes incredible spaghetti with meatballs. It’s so good, people convince her to open a restaurant. So, she does.

And it’s a huge success. She experiments with new recipes and expands the menu. She hires people to serve and help in the kitchen. She even opens a second location.

The growth of her business demands a shift from chef to restaurant owner.

It’s the same with leadership, as I learned years ago, soon after I launched my own business.

I get it. It can be hard to let others do the things you once loved to do! But if you stay in the kitchen making meatballs, it’s a recipe for … well, the opposite of growth.

But when you lead — focusing on the vision while inspiring and motivating your staff? That, my friends, is a recipe for success.

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

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