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Leadership vs. Management: How to Strike the Right Balance in Your Business


Being a leader sounds exciting, powerful. Everyone wants to be a leader who inspires the troops. Being a manager sounds boring, like someone who spends all day forcing workers to sweat over the assembly line. The problem with this either-or thinking is that both are needed in a well-run enterprise.

Leaders focus on high-level objectives such as inspiring and motivating the team to success, which can be exciting and powerful. Managers focus on organizing, planning and overseeing daily operations and that can sound mundane.

While a supervisor may excel at management or leadership, both skill sets are necessary for long-term success, both personally and for a company. And, both leadership and management can be infectious to a company’s workforce when done well, or done badly. Here’s why it’s important to learn how to balance both leadership and management skills to strike the right balance in your business.

Soft skills count

Take inexperienced managers, or those with low emotional intelligence. Such managers may concentrate on driving their teams to get the job done, without concern for the soft skills of building relationships with their team members.

These managers may think the leadership skills of coaching, encouraging and motivating aren’t important. But the reality is, employees tend to be less responsive to needed changes and improvements if their manager lacks the ability to build relationships. So, managers without people-focused leadership skills are likely to find it harder to get employees to commit to overtime when it’s needed, get volunteers for difficult projects or improve productivity.

For example, a new manager thought she was doing a great job because her data processing team met its deadlines and achieved its goals. However, her team disliked her exclusive focus on “getting the job done” and felt she didn’t care about them. Their frequent complaints about her management style led to her inability to get promoted and ultimately her search for another job. Luckily, a mentor helped the new manager grow her soft skills, which led to her long-term success and a series of promotions at another company.

These types of managers haven’t transitioned from our industrial era focus on efficiency as the most important thing. Maybe in the old days, a factory foreman could concentrate on following orders, issuing orders, organizing employees for the tasks at hand and making sure the job got done right. But that time is long gone, and maybe wasn’t ever true.

Today’s economy rests on knowledge workers who may create several paths to getting a job done well. Those employees need a manager who’s also a leader.

It’s not either-or

Management skills and leadership skills can’t be separated. Employees look to their managers for assignments, but they also look for feedback in the form of coaching, training and encouragement. Tying every job to the company’s larger goals and inspiring them to contribute is just as important as ensuring they get their everyday work done.

For example, while you may want to spend time supporting your employees’ growth and developing a positive company culture, you also need to make sure that your employees are serving your clients properly or carrying out the necessary tasks for producing your products and services.

Yes, those in the C-suite probably spend more time focusing on people, long-range planning, strategy and communicating the big picture than a front-line manager. But even lower-level managers need to be trained by their more experienced leaders in the art of balancing tactical skills with their soft skills of understanding their team’s motivations.

How to strike a balance 

Every manager needs both managerial skills as well as leadership in order to meet targets and deadlines. To strike a balance between being a manager and a leader, and to know when to concentrate on each, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the work getting done well without my intervention? If yes, concentrate on motivating the team to keep performing well. If not, put on your manager hat and ask the team what’s getting in the way of better performance, then help them implement changes.
  • Do you focus on results or process (how the job got done)? If you focus on results, good for you. That’s what is most important. If you tend to focus on process more than results, challenge yourself to become more comfortable with the reality that many alternatives may exist to getting the same result.
  • Do colleagues in other parts of the organization come to you for advice? If yes, you’re probably seen as a leader. If not, look at what you can change to support and inspire others.
  • What do you spend the most time talking about? The tasks at hand, processes and deadlines, or the big picture and strategy? Managers need to discuss both but pay attention to whether you’re leaning too hard one direction or the other.
  • Do you ask employees to accomplish objectives without explaining the need behind the request? Employees are more likely to go the extra mile if they understand the reasons they’re being asked to do something.
  • Who is responsible when things go wrong? Do you blame the team or yourself? A leader understands that it’s ultimately his responsibility for the success or failure of his team.

At the base of all such questions lies the ability to understand yourself and your team members’ motivations and desires. A manager without the soft skills of leadership won’t know how to ask questions, listen and motivate. Without understanding, a manager can’t be as effective in encouraging innovation and improving productivity, the real goal of any successful business.

Start training for leadership now

Now is a critical time for organizations to invest in teaching key individuals how to manage and how to lead. It’s relatively easy to teach management because it tends to focus on getting tasks done in a particular way in a set time frame.

However, the ability to lead people will only become more critical as the millennial generation moves into leadership roles. When that happens, millennials will need the leadership skills to motivate and inspire employees who span a 40-50 year age range, all with different cultural perspectives, needs and goals.

That will be no easy task and one that few companies are preparing for. Make your company the leader – begin teaching the balance of leadership and management now.

Download the free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management, Issue 2, to find even more ways to improve your leadership and management skills.