24 APRIL 2018
written by Mike
MANAGERS AND LEADERS
Depending on the size of the team, sooner or later, there will be someone who starts managing and leading the way. In small organisations it may be just one person doing it all, in big corporations, there are usually layers of administration. In my opinion, there are differences between managers and leaders, the way they operate.
Since immigrating to the United Kingdom over 11 years ago, I held over a dozen jobs. I carried plates, I moved speakers, I worked on movies and in a pretzel place. Each environment was unique, and each had a slightly different structure.
Since the first job I’ve always analysed and watched how the places were run by the owners, the managers, the teams. It doesn’t matter if the business was operating millions or thousands, it was always down to people. I’ve learned how difficult it is to manage a workplace successfully, and I’ve learned it from the best and the worst too.
First, let’s dissect the difference between a manager and a leader.
In my opinion, a leader is a person with a vision, with a big picture goal. He/she leads everyone there, makes sure that the goal is clear. A leader motivates, inspires and uplifts. He/she is the first one to make the step, first one to experiment, first one to take the blame. Leaders are rare, especially natural ones.
Can leadership be taught?
I think so. Not to everyone, but I saw many people step up to the opportunity and become good leaders. I also knew some who weren’t fit for the role and got overwhelmed by it.
What about managers?
Managers manage everyday situations, the work, the grind. Managers need to focus on running the place on a daily basis, the big picture goal is fine, but it’s the work and consistency that will get you there. That’s why managers are essential to keep the teams going. To organise, systematise and adjust when needed.
Management can also be taught, in my opinion, is much easier to manage than to lead, because more than often managers are following the established rules. However, it’s also not a position for everyone, especially for someone who abuses power for their own benefit.
Of course, one person can be both, especially when you are starting something new, a startup, a freelancing business, a small agency. When it’s down to three people, there will be shared responsibility but more than likely, one will take a role of leader/manager until the idea gets off the ground.
Through the years I observed many managers and leaders, and I always tried to learn from each person.
Everyone is different, every situation will have different consequences. However, I noticed that few main traits define good and bad leaders, more and less capable managers.
Let’s start with the good ones. All of them apply to people who are in the position of power. It can be a founder but also a supervisor. It doesn’t matter what leadership position you have, you can still make sure you do it best.
Visionaries tend to think long term. Day to day grind can put you down, and everyone has doubts, but true leaders know that the pain is crucial to complete the journey. It’s not about gambling and making a quick buck, it’s about investing and building robust structures that can last for a long time.
Good managers know how to listen and understand the feedback. They take the suggestions on board, reflect on them and acknowledge the initiative. It doesn’t mean agreeing to everything, but everyone wants to be heard, to feel significant. Capable managers know how to create such environment.
When you start to manage people, you begin to realise that not everyone thinks in the same way and not everyone thinks like you. It’s hard to overcome that but understanding that people are wired differently is an essential trait for aspiring leaders. To align a big team towards one goal, you need to understand that one size does not fit all.
Everyone knows that feedback is essential. However, most places I worked in have not had established that. Even though people complained in the corridors, most would sit silently during the meeting. It’s not that they were scared, they just didn’t bother to raise any issues, thinking that it won’t change anything.
A good manager knows that to get people talking, a transparent place needs to be created where feedback is heard, acknowledged and correct steps implemented.
Most work is stressful however a manager who understands that right culture can make the most boring task fun, will take steps to create such environment.
I’ve worked in places where management changed and only by changing the person in charge the whole atmosphere shifted. It is an eye-opening observation when you notice that the same place, the same work that 6 months ago made you happy, now makes your dread each morning.
A manager and a leader will always have a plan. A detailed one for day to day tasks and a big picture plan. They will also plan for the unexpected and know when and how to adjust.
A good manager will bring the change to the forum and won’t be afraid to create a new strategy. Plan with an understanding that it can all change in an instant.
A leader will take blame and responsibility, a manager will listen to feedback and learn from it. We are all human, and we make mistakes, but too many times I’ve seen issues swept under the rug, and problems left to themselves.
It never ends well, an open and transparent conversation is way more helpful even though it’s painful, but a right person in charge is not afraid of that.
Can Do Everything
It’s not about knowing it all. Thoughtful leaders and managers know that they need to hire people smarter than them to do the great work, but they also should have an understanding of all elements of the business.
To be able to listen to people, to understand their issues and aspirations, the leader should know what they are going through and how important the task is for them. The job that may not seem important to you, someone else can be passionate about it. It’s not about doing it better than another person, but understanding how are they doing it so you can establish a connection.
Walk The Talk And Care
Great leaders and managers care. Care about the people, the business, the work and they show it. It’s so easy to write company principles, the mission, the goals. However if people in charge don’t follow them, the rest of the team will quickly disregard them too. When it comes to inspiration and motivation, it should be from top to bottom. You don’t want to lead people by force, but by example.
I know that this is not a definite list of good traits, but if you want to be a manager or a leader, it’s a good starting point. I know that the best people that I worked with had all of that checked. Everyone is human and makes mistakes but owning the faults and learning from them is not something that everyone does.
But what are the bad traits of managers and leaders?
There indeed are few and unfortunately, these are more common than good ones. More than often I met people in charge who were not fit to lead or manage. These are things that I learned from them:
One of the worst things you can do as a manager is to control every aspect of the job. Yes, checks are important, same as deadlines, but managing every aspect of the task is always counterproductive. For most people, especially those who have experience and expertise in the field, it’s best to leave them alone to do the job.
Why does it matter if someone takes longer breaks if the results are the same or better than others? Let people be creative and only manage if there is a need for it.
In every job, there are stressful moments. It doesn’t matter if I was making pretzels or working on a big blockbusting movie worth millions. During these moments emotions tend to take over, and panic creeps in.
Best managers are anchors and can keep the balance, bad managers make things worse. If you see your leader falling apart, it’s hard to persist and push through. Leading by example means that if the example is wrong, people will still follow the lead.
Passing The Blame
Some managers can’t handle the responsibility, they tend to look for an easy way to escape tight situations. It’s always somebody else’s fault. It may be, but the right manager will handle the situation nevertheless. Pick up the slack if they need to and deal with it swiftly.
It’s not about sweeping things under the rug, mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities rather than a chance to stir conflict in the team.
Keeping The Word
As you may have guessed, it’s the opposite. I’ve attended so many meeting where the manager had the list of changes to do, everyone had their say, the team was excited. Then a week passes, and another and another and everything goes back to normal. Usual habits, same routines.
It’s so easy to make promises but implementing them seems to be only reserved for the best leaders, everyone else is afraid of the pain that comes with the necessary change.
Some managers tend to abuse their power. I saw time and time again where the person in charge would be unnecessarily sarcastic and belittle their own staff. Being friends with only a handful people from the team, making jokes on the expense of others.
Things like that can ruin the whole working environment. I’ve quit jobs because I saw that some were treated better by managers, just because they were friends outside the workplace. The place for the manager should be clear of bias, everyone should be able to state their case, and only the best should rise to the top.
When met with a tough situation, you need a quick decision. It may not be the best one but it needs to be fast, inaction often leads to bigger problems. Bad managers can’t handle that, they change their minds too often, they are scared to take the responsibility of making a tough choice.
More than likely if you are in a similar situation you won’t have all the facts and information you want and need. Sometimes you have to do with what you know, but someone has to do it.
Being a person in charge means that you should be the one that makes the final call.
So that’s it.
It’s not to say that there isn’t more traits and lessons I’ve learned.
Most of the work is based on human relationships, great leaders understand that it’s a team that can achieve the big goals. Being single-minded does not help, trying to convince that you are always right won’t get you far.
Listening, empathy, learning from mistakes – it seems so simple when you think about it. However, it’s so rare to find these traits in people in charge.
If you don’t know anyone who is like that, maybe it’s time to lead by example.
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