The scene was a night class during my Master’s degree: The professor spouted his favorite cliché: “You don’t manage people – you lead people, and you manage things.” I was reminded of this last week when giving a workshop and a manager in the class spouted out the same profound cliché.
It sounds great. “You lead people, and you manage things.” It’s salient. Even philosophical. But it’s wrong.
Before I defend my position, some definitions would probably help. In the words of Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, two of the most respected names in business, leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right.
In other words, leadership - doing the right things—is deciding the best course of action to take. What are the things we should be doing to get us to where we want to go? What direction or course of action should we take? Where do we want to be in the end?
The act of management then follows the act of leadership. Once the best course or direction has been decided, management - doing things right—picks up the ball, looks at the objectives established by leadership and says, “Okay, here’s the best way to get there.”
Shall the twain ever meet? You bet. Leaders must use some management skills and managers must use some leadership skills. But understanding the differences and working within their basic framework can make the workplace a whole lot more productive.
In an example offered by Stephen Covey, one corporate leader had his eyes opened when he was shown the leadership/management differences. He was spending a huge percentage of his time managing day-to-day operations. He worked closely with managers to help ensure production was optimal. But after he learned the definition of leadership, he took his hands off the day-to-day operations and began spending time looking at the direction of his company. He spent considerably more time examining trends and data, discovering what his company should be doing to stay competitive down the road. Then, armed with that information, he set strategic objectives for growth. The result? After years of stagnant growth, corporate profits rose more than 50% within a year.
Does this mean the person was a bad manager? Not at all. He may be great in a manager’s role. But he was trying to do a manager’s job while filling a leader’s role. The double focus resulted in diminished leadership. Once he understood the role of a leader, he shed his management tasks and focused on leading, with great results.
To give my professor credit, yes, we lead people and we manage things, but we cannot neglect the management of people.
Managing people involves understanding the strengths and weaknesses of individuals within a work team and assigning people tasks for optimal efficiency. In fact, another way to look at these differences is to equate leadership with effectiveness and management with efficiency.
Effectiveness (leadership) has to do with quality—the right direction; and efficiency (management) has to do with time.
Jim is a manager I know at factory in the Midwest. He has five people in his department, and he is well-aware of each person’s strengths and weaknesses. When sales are off and work is slow, Jim let’s his team work wherever they want at the various workstations in the department. But when sales are up or when rush orders come in, Jim is quick to assign people to specific workstations.
Jim knows that everyone in his department can do every task, but he also recognizes that some people have a natural ability to do better in some tasks than others. Matching a person’s skills to fit the job is management. It’s putting the right people in the right places to get things done correctly and efficiently.
On a construction site, it may be that a carpenter knows how to wire a house, and an electrician knows how to cut wood, but it would be bad management to have them do each other’s jobs. Good managers put people in positions best suited to their skills.
With all due respect to my professor and my student last week, we lead people and we manage people. It just depends on our role within the organization whether we should focus our efforts on one or the other.