Blurred Lines: Leadership versus Management

by | Business Success Tools

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”

– Steve Jobs to PepsiCo CEO John Sculley

Are you a leader or a manager? Is it possible to be both?

In the age of Jobs, Gates and Branson, conversations revere the leadership archetype, where business innovation and motivating others are keys to success. Leaders’ traits are almost always deemed superior to those in the managers’ template, which emphasizes planning, organization and coordination.

It’s leadership versus management. It’s vision versus implementation. It’s long-term versus short-term. It’s instinct versus practice. It’s out-of-the-box versus regimentation. It’s chasing potential versus meeting the bottom line. It’s James T. Kirk (Star Trek) versus Michael Scott (The Office). Effective leaders are perceived to be rare, while managers are considered easier to locate and plug-in.

But is that fair, and is it even accurate? It’s certainly a simplification.

What does Your Company Need?

Leaders may grab the headlines and get their pictures on the magazine covers, but the world needs managers, too.

So what does your company need, and what does it need now? It seems intuitive that start-ups, tech-heavy companies and service-oriented firms benefit from the extra panache an effective or charismatic front man (or woman) brings to the effort. The “gravitas” or “presence” can be reassuring to customers, employees and even investors during periods of uncertainty.

More established companies in mature industries might benefit from a more traditional managerial mindset, where efficiencies and processes are entrenched.

It’s been argued that leadership and its associated traits – risk-taking, innovation, and the like – become more important as companies are poised to enter the next stage of their development, from early stage, to going-concern, to maturity. Leaders, it’s thought, are better at breaking through plateaus and moving a company forward.

But all companies need both leadership and management. And if you’re at the helm of your company, you need to be able to wear both hats effectively.

To Develop Your Leadership Traits

It’s probably true that some leaders are born, not made. No amount of effort can turn the average person into a Lincoln or Churchill. Still, some fine-tuning and concerted effort can get you close to being the best leader you can be. Try a couple of these suggestions to develop your leadership traits and improve your overall game.

  • Keep your eye on the prize. What’s the long-term goal for your company? $20 million in revenue? A sales office in every state? To be recognized as the premier company in your industry? Consistent attention to where you want your company to eventually be – not just what’s happening this month or this quarter – will help you develop a true leader’s mindset.
  • Volunteer. Volunteer work for causes or organizations you genuinely care about can give you a fresh perspective to take back to your 9 to 5 role, and provide opportunities to lead and guide in situations away from your employees and co-workers.
  • Publish. One way to stand out from the crowd is to stand in front of a crowd. Consider authoring an industry white paper or ebook, and offer to present your work at a trade show or conference. This kind of activity can result in “thought leader” status, which is a great label to acquire. For more on elevating your profile, see MP Star’s blog, Make Yourself an Industry Expert.
  • Find a Mentor. Just being associated with the right person in your industry can be a very effective way of developing your insights and confidence, which can translate to better decision making, innovation, and more effective leadership.

To Improve Your Management Skills

Managers need specific skills, depending on the nature of the industry and their particular role at the company. But any manager can take a few steps toward improvement.

  • Be the go-to person. Regardless of your specific responsibilities on the job, take ownership of one specific knowledge area that makes you indispensable. It could be knowledge about competitors’ offerings, inside-out skills pertaining to a certain software program, or even a solid recollection of the company’s history with a key client. It doesn’t matter, as long as what you know is relevant, and that everyone knows to come to you for the information.
  • Learn to delegate. You must. Sure, it will sometimes be easier in the short run to just do something yourself, but in the interest of overall effectiveness, time management, and developing your people, you need to be able to hand-off and let go.
  • Keep your skills current. There’s no excuse to fall behind, whether it’s pertaining to tech, management theory, or best practices that are critical to your industry. Conferences, clinics, forums, online training and numerous other options make it easy to stay relevant without having to return to a formal classroom setting.
  • Know the numbers. It’s never okay to not know what’s going on regarding your company’s financial and economic performance. You don’t need CPA-level expertise, but you do need to have a basic comfort level with income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and business banking. There are many online resources to help. Check out MP Star’s posts on cash flow management, small business checking accounts, and small business banking.

Image courtesy Wagging Dog Media Limited

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