How to Be Both Manager and Leader Simultaneously
I’m convinced that there is no job more difficult than that of a frontline manager or supervisor. The job is a dumping ground for many, many responsibilities. The metrics for success are misleading. And the expectations from every other job level are often unrealistic. In this series, The Many Hats that Managers Wear, we’ll help you sort it out. Let’s start with how to be both manager and leader because that is the single greatest cause of confusion in most supervisory roles.
Wait, what? If you’re wondering how it’s possible to be both a manager of work AND a leader of people, take a deep breath. We’re not going to add to your job. We’re going to provide the clarity and focus to get your job done better, faster, and in ways that positively impact others, too.
The Words “Leader” and “Manager” Are NOT Interchangeable
Those folks at the top of your org chart might be called “Leaders.” But are they?
In many organizations, the chief complaint is that the so-called “leaders” aren’t leading.
Maybe that’s because simply granting someone a title doesn’t magically transform them into being something they’ve never learned to be.
Let’s get real. The people at the top of the org chart are Senior Managers or Executives. They may, or may not, be leaders. If they are, it’s not because of the title. It’s because of their choices and behaviors.
In fact, leadership has nothing at all to do with job level. A leader is someone who leads. You can recognize a leader by whether or not there are eager, willing followers (not people who are being prodded to comply due to authority, control, or positional power.
You can see leadership at every level. Sometimes, it’s the new hire who engages others and champions new ideas that others are eager to adopt. Maybe you’ve seen peer leadership in teams, often bouncing from one individual to another. At times, you’ve probably led others, too, including those who have roles that are senior to yours.
Even children lead each other, their parents, their siblings, and their teachers at times. Having an idea that ignites others’ interest and passion gives anyone an opportunity to lead. To learn more about who’s eligible to be a leader, check out this post.
On the other hand, being a manager DOES require a title or an official endowment of authority. It’s the title and/or stature that allows the use of managerial tools like authority, control, and certain resources.
Most who become titled managers or supervisors assume that the title is all it takes to be successful. Many are sadly surprised when they learn that command-and-control tactics and reliance on managerial authority aren’t enough to get the job done.
The most effective managers know when to leverage the title and tools of management AND how to more often use the evidence-based behaviors of leadership that engage and inspire others.
Think of it this way:
To manage means to handle. Managers get work done through others by handling work assignments, removing obstacles, scheduling and staging tasks, overseeing the coordination of work efforts, setting expectations, and giving feedback to ensure performance in the delivery of desired quantity and quality. By necessity, managers focus on the short term.
To lead means to guide. Leaders help people see the higher meaning and purpose of their work. They guide people toward the future, inspiring them to dig deeper and connect with each other through shared aspirations. They support development and the actualization of individual potential. Leaders focus on the long term.
Managing and leading are both important. But they are two different pursuits. Striking the right balance enables people with management titles to achieve more and to be seen as leaders.
The Consequences of Neglecting Either Part of Your Dual Role
When there’s an imbalance between managing and leading, there are missed opportunities and major consequences that affect a lot of people.
Neglecting leadership and focusing too heavily on the tools of managing will result in:
Coming across as a micromanager or autocrat.
Diminished employee engagement as task work and deliverables over-shadow the meaning of that work and fulfillment from it.
A loss of credibility for the manager who misses big-picture implications.
Burnout as people feel under-challenged and over-worked, feeling more like “cogs in the wheel” than key contributors who are individually valued.
Reduced productivity as employees “quiet quit” or actually quit, leading to reduced customer satisfaction and reduced sales + increased expenses for hiring and onboarding.
Neglecting management and exclusively positioning as a “visionary” or “change leader” will result in:
Too much talk and not enough action or follow-through, ultimately damaging credibility.
Change fatigue as people find it difficult to keep up with change they don’t understand or can’t fathom while also performing their day-to-day work assignments.
Disillusionment when big ideas and implied promises fail to manifest because they weren’t backed up with effective execution.
Others picking up the slack and becoming too heavily focused on managing, thereby jeopardizing their own credibility and effectiveness.
Leaving people behind because they don’t see themselves in the vision, haven’t been consulted or considered, and are getting mixed messages about what’s expected.
What’s happening when organizations call the executive team a “leadership team” is that they’re trying to divide and conquer. They’re attempting, often unsuccessfully, to have visionary and future-focused work done at the top with execution on ideas closer to the front lines.
It doesn’t work.
The concept is appealing. The implementation is usually flawed for these reasons.
1. Role distinctions are not clearly defined or commonly understood.
Senior team members, if they were to truly be visionary change leaders, would have to extract themselves from the day-to-day. They’d need to entrust next-level managers with decision-making and grant sufficient authority for short-term oversight.
Mid-level managers would need to collaborate and develop cross-functional business acumen to make quality decisions together.
Frontline managers would need to be plugged into the high-level vision and plans for change so they could train and equip employees for what’s to come.
2. People aren’t selected into senior roles for their demonstrated leadership effectiveness.
More often, selection into senior roles rewards loyalty, technical expertise, and/or managerial effectiveness in delivering short-term results for the functional area.
Leadership behaviors are barely understood in many organizations and aren’t used as a gauge for future success in leading strategically to envision the future, enlist others in that shared vision, and enabling and ennobling the employees who will be a part of driving toward the vision.
3. Communication isn’t effectively cascaded.
If one group develops the vision and another group implements it, the communication has to be clear, consistent and constant. In most places, it’s not.
Confusion abounds, and plans stall out. Soon, the senior team’s time is consumed by backtracking and re-evaluating. They may step in to push what they’ve never clearly explained. It doesn’t take long before they’re mired in micromanaging instead of retaining their role as visionaries.
4. Silo mentalities are rewarded and inadvertently encouraged.
Managers are promoted because they excelled in their frontline contributor role. They are measured on the performance of a team in that same functional area. They may pursue additional education or credentials in that functional area, but they are seldom pushed to pursue other-area experience.
What’s more, different departments or divisions may compete for resources (FTE count, budget allocations, time with the senior management team, etc.). They’re vying for recognition and entrenched in championing what their own teams need. They’re recognized and rewarded for short-term goal attainment in their own siloed area. So, of course, they hunker down and focus very narrowly.
5. Without opportunities to lead, employees and early-stage managers leave for greener pastures.
This division between “leadership” and “management” is tainted by the implication that people need to stay in their lanes. If managers and frontline contributors can’t be seen as leaders, the ones with leadership aptitude and ambitions will look for opportunities elsewhere.
The ones who stay will be conditioned to manage, not lead. Long-term, they won’t be equipped to lead when that’s exactly what might be needed from them.
This is why the strongest organizations build leadership at every level and expect managers to simultaneously manage work AND lead people.
Here’s How to Be Both Manager and Leader in Your Day-to-Day Work
In every minute of every day, you get to choose whether or not to show up as a leader.
When you learn the proven behaviors of leaders – the ones that make anyone who wishes to lead more effective in doing so – you’ll find that it’s easy to demonstrate these behaviors. The choice to lead will be an easy and obvious one when you understand what it takes.
With the 30 behaviors that are clustered as The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, you will simultaneously manage work AND lead people. You won’t feel like you have to be a manager in some situations and a leader in other situations. You will be both at all times.
For example, one of the behaviors that makes leaders more effective is to follow through on promises and commitments made. That doesn’t need to stand alone as a behavior you reserve for times when you want to lead. Rather, that’s a daily habit you build and use right alongside your managerial interactions and even outside of work.
All 30 evidence-backed behaviors are similarly simple. They are all within the grasp of anyone who chooses them. People who do them more frequently are the ones who are seen as leaders and have eager, willing followers.
For managers who display leadership behaviors more frequently, employee engagement soars. At the very same time that these managers are assigning work tasks (short-term), they’re providing big-picture context that infuses those tasks with meaning and purpose (long-term). When delegating new responsibilities (short-term), these managers consider people development and what’s appealing to individuals (long-term).
The fundamental fallacy is that you have to be one or the other – a manager OR a leader. That’s a dangerous denial of what people really want from a manager. We all crave leadership, and we look to our direct managers for it. We want the kind of leadership, from a manager, that:
Provides a steady example of what we’re supposed to do and how.
Creates clarity that makes our work easier so we can do it faster and with confidence.
Stimulates us because it’s moderately challenging and because we have been given room to try new things, fail at times, learn, and continually grow.
Lets us know that we are trusted and that we have a place in this organization.
Buoys our spirits when the going gets tough.
When managers don’t recognize the importance of leading in these ways, they fail. No matter how technically proficient they are, they miss the mark on getting the most out of every employee. If it’s not about the employee and helping them see the future possibilities, it’s inherently less interesting than the work alone.
Every manager should be a leader. Those two roles shouldn’t be viewed as two different things. Yes, they have different skill sets and different expressions. But rolled up together, the manager as leader is a powerful force for employee engagement and team success.