A Veteran’s Viewpoint on Leading vs. Managing

Leadership and management articles, blogs, and journals are absolutely everywhere I look these days. Each article or post preaches the merits of a particular brand of it, while others look to point out that there is not real need for it in our current environment.

As I have now had the opportunity to lead and manage in multiple settings and environments, I have come to several conclusions on the matter, which for better or worse, I am going to share here in list form (because everyone loves a list, right?).

1. Managing vs. Leading — There is a difference. It can be apparent, or it can be very subtle depending on the situation. Take the time to learn what each one is, and what scenarios they are best suited for.

The United States Army defines leadership as influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (AR 600–100 pg. 17)

In contrast, the Army rarely uses management in reference to people, and almost always in reference to a process. Whether it is planning, resources, or equipment repair, there is always a process to control, oversee or manage.

This is not to imply that you can’t or shouldn’t manage people, but rather facilitate some further thought on when it’s the best answer vs. leading them.

2. Flexibility — Understand that no day is going to be the same, and that every moment is going to bring new challenges — whether they be operational in nature or an attempt to get your team motivated to do something that is in the best interest of the business, but tedious in nature. Understanding how to engage different problems from different angles is imperative to success. Sometimes, a problem needs to be managed by helping your people walk through the problem to understand it. Other times, your team will understand the problem perfectly but have no motivation to fix it, and will need you to lead them through it versus managing the issue itself.

There are times that the differences in leading and managing is readily apparent, and there are others where it’s very subtle. Understanding the difference and being flexible enough to know how to move back and forth between the two is crucial to success on almost any team.

3. Individuality — Everyone is different. Not from the “special flower” perspective that may or may not be overused in our society today, but from the perspective that we all respond to adversity and success in different ways. Never assume, as a manager, that you can manage or lead all of your people with the same technique. Some folks need calm, even keeled mentoring to get to where they need to be, while others actually respond better to the proverbial “boot in the behind”. Recognize good work, but do it in a way that fits the person. Some people enjoy public adulation, while others would much prefer a one on one pat on the pack away from their peers.

The only way to figure this out is to get to know your people. Talk to them about things other than work, know what their concerns are in the job, and know what motivates them. Taking the time to understand who your team really is, and what makes them tick is fundamental to good leadership.

I understand that this is chapter one in almost any leader handbook, but I don’t feel its importance can be overstated when it comes to understanding the individual nature of each person that makes up your team.

4. Patience/Listening — While I was in the Army, I learned a lesson that surprised me at first, but it became apparent how important it was as time wore on.

The best ideas for solving a majority of tactical and operational problems almost always seem to come from the line levels. The lesson here is that just because someone doesn’t have the title of manager or above, certainly does not mean they don’t have fantastic ideas on how to help the team succeed. So listen, it only takes a minute, and it could end up saving your team a lot more than that.

Exhibit patience with your people. As I learned the hard way, short fuses and unreasonable expectations do nothing to further the effectiveness of a team over the long term. You may be surprised at how much a small amount of patience and understanding will boost productivity over the short and long terms. We have all been at a point in our professional careers where we needed our boss to just give us a little time and patience. Always remind yourself of that fact.

5. Following — Great leaders tend to also be great followers. I am sure this is news to no one. I have found over the last decade, that the leaders that I admired the most, the ones that made me want to be better, work harder, etc., were always fantastic at being in charge when in charge (another Army idiom that I appreciate far more now), and were great at falling in line to support someone else when they weren’t the head honcho.

Those that knew how to lead and manage knew how to follow, which meant they knew how to listen, which also meant that they understood how to be flexible and appreciated each member of the organization for the individuals that they were.

In conclusion, over the last 10 years I have learned a multitude of lessons that brought me to the above conclusions. Admittedly, I learned at least 75% of them the hard way, which drove the point home that much more.

In order to be an effective leader and manager, you must always know the difference between the two, and understand that maintaining an ever-present flexibility in all aspects is key to achieving the results you are looking for. Always remember to be a responsible custodian for your most important resource — the people that make up your team.

Originally published at www.rallypoint.com.