Business of Software

Management Vs Leadership

Leadership, from is a topic that has come up several times in my life. I have a Type-A personality and I like to excel and I like to be a leader. The problem is that a few times in my career that has landed me in a management position.

I have actually been slightly surprised to find that so much has already been written on this topic. Not because I thought that I had some original idea, it was that I was actually surprised that I didn’t know any of this literature existed until I actively went looking for it. More people in business need to understand this distinction between a manager and a leader.

My definition of “Management Position” means that some portion of the job is to write reviews, handle HR issues, balance departmental budgets, alot raises, and answer to someone about the productivity of your charges individually and your department as a whole.

Good managers who do all of this well are hard to find. Unfortunately, too many management positions are manned by people who were the best at whatever their department was responsible for doing. Often, the individual only took the job because it was the only decent way to get a raise and not because they had a passion to improve things through administration.

This is extremely unfortunate. What this company has just done is remove the person who is likely their most productive individual and put them in a position (VERY LIKELY without proper training) that Peter Principle’s them.

As I alluded to earlier, I am not speaking from the sidelines, but as one who was in the game. I wanted to make more money and I like to be a leader, so when a position opened up to be a supervisor at a place where I used to work, I leapt at it. I was one of the most (if not the most) productive worker in the building and one who didn’t shy away from doing what was right so I got the job.

That began my problems. My manager was removed from his position shortly afterward and I was named interim manager – a position that lasted for three months. My style of management was to “get in there and do the work”. If someone was falling behind, I didn’t coach them up… I bailed them out. If we had a big work day ahead, I came in early and got things started and prepared (or even done) for everyone else instead of trying to plan a schedule for others to help. That may sound great or heroic, but the problem was that a) I wasn’t doing anyone any favors and b) Pete don’t scale. This worked for one building and 20 employees, but if our workload or staff increased, I couldn’t bail everyone out at once. If someone quit one of the “higher responsibility” positions below me, no one had been trained up to replace them. I was blowing it, but I had no idea.

Fortunately, I did not get the permanent management position. They were prepared to give it to me, but another manager from Dallas, TX was looking to transfer and company policy gave him first dibs at the job. They apologized to me and thanked me for my efforts being both manager and supervisor for three months. The truth is that they did me a huge favor. The man who came in was a M A N A G E R.

He knew how to delegate. He knew how to schedule. He knew how to train. He knew how to discipline. The man was skilled at his craft and I began to see how I had been failing. I learned a lot about the right way to be a manager. At the same time, it also made me see that I didn’t want to be a manager though I liked being a leader.

I love setting an example. I love sharing my knowledge with others and setting a precedent, but I don’t like disciplining them if they fail to learn or improve. I love performing technical interviews for positions and giving input for hiring decisions, but I hate negotiating salary, benefits, and schedules. I love when things get busy and that means that I can be super productive while attending less meetings (that my manager has to attend in my stead). I don’t like playing politics to get my department what it needs, I like to occasionally rely on the fact that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I definitely don’t like to play the game where you have to make other managers of other departments or divisions feel like they were involved in the decision so they can feel useful. I’d much rather hear the facts, decide the course, and take my troops into battle.

It seems that I have a very definite idea of what a manager does and I’ve now written much more about that portion than I had originally intended, but it feels good to get it out. What is unique about a manager is that you can (or should) only have one per spot and they can only exist in certain conditions. However, a leader can exist anywhere in your organization. You can have a leader in the receptionist’s chair, the custodial team, the accounting division, or in your auditing department. He (gender neutral from here on out) can be a software architect, a lead developer, junior developer, business analyst, or QA guy. I’m not even creating a dichotomy that says that managers can’t be leaders, too. You can have managers and executives that are leaders, too (in fact, I *pray* that you do!).

What matters is that he has a vision, acts on it and causes others to follow him to act on that vision. In finding other literature on this topic, I came across these two quotes which best sum up what I’ve been trying to say:

“The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.” (WSJ)

“Managers have subordinates. Leaders have followers.” (Changing Minds)

I hope that this is some food for thought for other Type-A’s out there as to maybe how you can best use your energies depending on what portions of the above got you excited. Not everyone can be *the* leader though, and I will be writing very soon about the importance of learning how to follow.

2 comments Management Vs Leadership

Phil Shearer says:

It is possible for an effective leader to be lacking in management skills but to be an effective manager, you must have excellent leadership skills. For an example, consider General George McClellan vs. General U.S. Grant. McClellan was an excellent planner but failed to execute those plans when needed most. General Grant, on the other hand, was an accomplished strategist and, more importantly, an effective leader who could effectively execute his battle plans.

McClellan was loved and admired by his troops because they saw his reluctance to go into battle as concern for their well being. He was a victim of “good guy syndrome”. That is to say, he was a well liked but ineffective leader. President Lincoln, frustrated by McClellan’s inaction, once said “If you are not going to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a while.”

This is not meant as a treatise on Civil War history but as an allegory on management and leadership. An effective manager must be able to carry out responsibilities that he does not care for with the same energy that he uses for his favored tasks. Being a manager is not always a ‘fun’ job but in the end, if done effectively, can be very personally rewarding.

The most important thing a manager does is evaluate and train those in his charge. Consider the fact that one of the biggest roadblocks to promotion is that there is nobody ready to take the candidate’s place. Also consider that the main reason people quit their jobs is not salary, benefits or opportunity for advancement but rather that they feel they did not receive sufficient training to do their jobs effectively. In a word, frustration.

Too often, training takes a back seat to time constraints. It is imperative that the manager not jump in and complete a task that his employee is uncertain how to do but to work with that person to see that they understand how to do it. The normal reaction is “I’ll just go ahead and do it myself because I can do it better than anybody else.” This is a cardinal sin! If deadlines absolutely prohibit the luxury of training while completing the task, then training must be scheduled after the fact. An employee who gets pushed aside because they don’t know how to complete a task is devalued in his own mind. One who is taught how to handle a new situation gains a feeling of accomplishment and self worth.

We all have things that we do not care to do. Disciplining an employee is often at the top of our lists. Discipline should not be used as a threat, i.e. “If you don’t shape up, I’m going to write you up”. Discipline is also a teaching opportunity. All corrective interviews should be handled in a timely manner. Do not take the “Wait til your father gets home” route. Effective disciplinary interviews should take this form: Praise for what the employee is doing right; clear and concise explanation of shortcomings; a plan to correct these shortcomings; expression of confidence that the employee will be able to accomplish goals set forth in the interview. In short, positive – negative – positive.

In regards to the Peter Principle, some of the responsibility for this phenomenon needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the person being promoted. Turning down an opportunity is not easy but if one is totally honest with himself he should be able to recognize his inability to deal with a more demanding position. Knowing one’s own limitations is critical. If you find yourself in a position of turning down a promotion you should also be asking for sufficient training so that you may be ready when then next opportunity arises.

Attitudes are contagious. Simple statement, simple truth. The single biggest factor in employee morale is management attitude. A positive attitude will act as a motivator. I’m not talking about a ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms” cheery and saccharine, things are great kind of positive. This will eventually come across as phony and lead to the opposite of the desired effect. A good solid positive outlook will rub off on your people and will also boost productivity. A negative attitude will depress not only morale but will affect quantity and quality of work done.

I have rambled on. What was intended to be a brief comment has started to turn into Management 101. To sum this up it should be said that an effective leader does not have to have superior management skills but a superior manager must have effective leadership skills.

Pete says:

Thanks, Dad. I probably should have just had you write this up for me, since I know that you know way more about it than I do. Thanks for taking the time to get your perspective recorded here!

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