Why is it that some leaders can’t manage? Does it matter if you are a leader or a manager? Leaders or managers? There are many distinctions between these two:
- Leaders do the right things, managers do things right
- Leaders create vision, managers define tasks
- Leaders disrupt, managers stabilize
- Leaders influence, managers implement
- And so on ….
The distinctions above are never quite as binary as they appear. Many organizations have an aspiration to promote the best people to the most important roles. This is the obvious thing to do to be successful. Why is it then that some senior leaders, or it could be many of them, are not great at managing others? Given that influence and role modelling are so powerful, shouldn’t leaders also be great at managing people? To be pedantic, we could say “leading others”, but that would just be a play on words. How many leaders are excellent at spending time with their direct reports, maximizing their potential, coaching them to be better, listening to them, giving them career advice, and knowing what challenges they are facing in their roles? What reasons get in the way of this? There are three areas of deficiency that lie at the heart of this:
The pace of organizational demands can be suffocating. Achieving targets can be overwhelming. Responding to others can be never-ending. Many leaders are simply starved of time, or don’t prioritize the management of others to do it well. Trying to fit in monthly one-on-one meetings with direct reports is nigh on impossible. Should it be an hour, 30 minutes, every two-months, or even on-demand. Afterall, good people can manage themselves, can’t they? Leaders who don’t prioritize the people who work for them are simply victims of the stranglehold of the clock. Working through others is always more impactful than maximizing your own capacity. Leaders who miss the opportunity to spend time with their direct reports are missing the point. Motivating them, inspiring them, rewarding them, and engaging them are all essential to get the best out of others. Leaders who don’t dedicate time to managing others are undermining their own effectiveness as well as reducing the power of the collective organization to deliver.
Some would say that leaders don’t need to be good at managing others because they’re doing something more important, i.e. leading from the front. Of course, the other key component to leadership is followership. Being great at leadership, but lousy at winning the hearts and minds of those who follow isn’t an equation that works well. Being able to listen, understand, and empathize with others takes time and skill. Some leaders simply don’t have the skills to manage well. They might be excellent at leading the line in generating business and be fabulous at delivering results. But doing this over time, without supporting the needs of your own employees, will not result in organizational health. Leaders, for whom management responsibilities don’t come naturally, need to apply themselves more intentionally, leverage other people’s skills, and be very honest about their own limitations. Leaders often have the capacity to also be effective managers. Acknowledging a skill deficit and getting some personal development might dent their pride, but it will benefit their employees.
Some leaders just couldn’t be bothered to manage other people’s needs. Or maybe they just aren’t motivated to do this. They are rewarded primarily for the business they generate and the numbers they achieve. The price of not managing others well simply isn’t meaningful enough to inspire them to be different. Bonuses are paid out on 90% financials, and 10% the rest. Creating a vibrant culture of connected and challenged people isn’t in the top 5 of some leader’s priorities. They may list it there when conducting off-site team workshops, but in their own minds it’s a nice-to-have. They don’t wake up with a focus on getting the best out of others. Every now and then they may have a twinge of acceptance that this is important, but by 9:00 am it’s gone. Facing up to personal priorities and motivation is not just the domain of others going through development programs, it’s a wake-up call for all leaders.
Managing others is often relegated to second place to providing leadership. Maybe it’s time to bring it up to joint first place!