Managers are leaders despite what some experts say. Management books and “experts” tell us a basic distinction between leaders and managers is leaders lead people, managers manage things. Sounds good and seems accurate; but that misses one factor. We need people to manage things. And the manager must work with them. She must coach, guide, train, cheerlead, encourage critical thinking, problem solve, and empower individuals and teams. A key aspect of the manager’s job is to hire the right people and inspire people to focus and cooperate to fulfill the organization’s purpose.
I had never been taught how to care about people but instead how to see people as objects for success. Then one day, I no longer saw them as functions. I saw them as somebody’s precious child, from which I would have a significant impact on their lives. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and Truly Human Leadership
Often, we think of leaders as the CEO and her direct reports. We don’t realize that teams in production, marketing, sales, and other areas below the executive level are significant value creators that need effective leaders. The challenge these teams face is to avoid unnecessary meetings many executives thrive on, and encourage focus on the customer. These teams must heed Stanford University Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell’s words: The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.
Managers are Leaders
It is more apt to say leaders provide a common vision, hire key people, and ask sharp questions that produce needed values, missions, and strategies. Hiring is crucial and the leader must ensure she hires people she can trust. Leaders provide the vision and give managers responsible authority and necessary resources to carry out the mission. Managers must be critical thinkers and answer questions about the firm’s strategy and related actions, as they lead people to get things done to implement the mission.
Understanding the manager’s role is pivotal. Successful managers know they must develop individuals and teams. It’s never about them. Managers who accept the traditional, erroneous management view, mistreat employees. They see workers as cogs and create rules, often stupid ones, for them to follow. And they take credit for their team’s successes. Besides, these managers discourage staff from thinking. Further, they do not see the benefit to train and empower frontline workers to develop relationships with customers. This vital interaction helps entities stay current with marketplace developments, anticipate changes, and move in the right direction.
Managers are Leaders who “Walk About”
With their teams, managers develop goals for different activities such as sales, marketing, production and finance. These goals are in line with the entity’s mission, and must be (4Cs) clear, complete, concise, and computable. But to be actionable, each goal needs a plan, the steps to achieve the goal. And plans must be (4Ss) simple, specific, staged, and sensitive to people affected. Effective managers must:
Learn what employees do and the context in which they operate: Understand their goals, constraints, and needed trade-offs. Then, managers can appreciate the proper context and build-in needed resources to enable cooperation to carry out the mission
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
- Give employees responsible authority: Empower them to unleash their potentials.
- “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.
Provide needed resources: Lead by “walking about” to encourage and to see how you can help without getting in the way and micromanage.
Train employees well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin
Feedback continually to employees and ask for their feedback about their context: Do they have needed resources; do they need training; do they need help? The manager must adjust behavior and processes as needed to help employees achieve the mission, and she must continue the learning cycle.
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” – Harvey S. Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company
Source: Adapted from Six Simple Rules (1)
Two Actual Cases of Poor Management
- A customer bought an item from a store for less than $100.00. The store’s policy was to refund returns up to seven days after the purchase. The first return attempt failed. The manager was absent, and only he processed refunds. The customer wasted two trips. When the manager handled the refund, he repaid the price without questions. Wouldn’t it be more productive for all if the manager trained staff to handle routine refunds?
- Another person sold her car in August. She emailed the insurance company with a copy of the Bill of Sale and a note requesting cancellation. In October, she got a note from the insurance company asking her to fill out the company’s form confirming the sale! Again, why not train staff to respond quicker, and to know the Bill of Sale with signatures, and a customer email requesting cancellation, is more authentic than signing a letter attached to an email?
Successful Firm’s Empower Frontline Workers
The view that managers manage things should not surprise us. It’s engrained in the system and followed for years. In 1911, Frederick W. Taylor, a management consulting pioneer, proposed that managers take workers’ knowledge about their jobs and summarize into rules and formulae that the workers follow “mechanically.” Taylor saw workers as “things” to manage. He didn’t want them to think. Contrast this with companies like Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, Virgin that empower their frontline workers to handle customers’ complaints and not shuffle clients to different departments and supervisors.
Managers are leaders whose prime role is to embrace the firm’s vision and lead teams to carry out the firm’s mission. Like executive leadership, they hire the right people and train and equip them to cooperate with minimum rules. They give staff responsible authority and needed resources. Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman’s first of Six Simple Rules, understand what people do and why they do it, is an essential first step to start a meaningful relationship with team members. Managers must learn the context of how people do their jobs. This will allow team members and the manager know how the manager might help team members improve performance, and whether the firm needs those functions.
While many executives do not manage directly and some are poor managers, managers need to be effective leaders because managing involves people carrying out the organization’s purpose. Managers deal with things — budgets, production, sales — but people carry out these activities. The best managers embrace the firm’s vision, hire the right people, train, coach, encourage, and empower frontline workers to do their jobs to delight customers.
© 2020, Michel A Bell
(1) Morieux, Yves, and Tollman, Peter, Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated, Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014