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Becoming an effective leader and manager

Running a successful business depends on knowing the difference between a leader and a manager, and being able to combine the best attributes of both roles to become an effective ‘managerial leader’.

Are you a great manager? Or do you see yourself as an inspired leader? If you are in an SME environment, picking one or the other role for yourself may be harming your business.

Business leaders today are facing more stresses and tasks than at any time in the past. Even though we have more tools at our disposal to manage these tasks, we are also bombarded with more information and data to process than ever before.

Traditional thinking on leadership separates the role of leader and manager. A manager is seen as someone who administers, who focuses on systems and structures, and relies on control. The ideal manager always has his or her eye on the bottom line, and is seen as someone with a short-range view of the business, who is analytical and looks at all relevant data before making a decision.

The leader role appears to be more glamorous – a leader innovates, focuses on people, inspires trust and takes a long-range perspective on the business. Seen as a key influencer, the leader challenges, originates ideas and presents as his or her own person.

All of which seems to make the role of manager look like the poor cousin in terms of impact on the business and its future – after all, no one has ever erected a statue to a “world manager” as they have to “world leaders”.

However, examine the roles a little more closely. While the leader is charging out in front innovating, challenging and keeping an eye on the future, any organisation which runs solely this way will be doomed to a fast and painful death.

Key requirements for any business – bottom line, cash flow, resource allocation and customer care – are all omitted from the leadership role, as these are the domain of the management role.

“I see myself as a leader not a manager” – I have heard business people say this in coaching sessions and workshops so many times, and I’ve observed that these ‘leaders’ often don’t have many followers! Effective and successful organisations need both roles, supporting and complementing each other. As leading management author John Kotter says, both leaders and managers are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment.

Leadership skills are about knowing where to go and modeling the way; management skills are about actually getting there. One of respected management thinker Warren Bennis’ most quoted phrases is: “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing”.

The effective leader also has effective management skills; similarly the effective manager has, and uses, leadership skills.

This is “managerial leadership”. This is the way of doing the right thing – right.

To give a non-business example of managerial leadership, the man who plans an overseas surf holiday for a few friends is both leader and manager. He sets the vision, encourages and inspires others to participate, and also checks the where, when and how with the tedium of flights, travel agents accommodation and insurance.

As a business gets more complex, it becomes compartmentalized; each division and group with its own vision, performance targets and budgets and its own processes and methodologies operating within the larger system. This creates the need for its own leadership and management skill sets, which are unique to that sub-group.

Within the overarching organisation systems, the ‘manager’ will create local systems to generate results as set and agreed by the ‘leader’. At local group level this will be the same person, operating as a managerial leader.

The concept of leader versus manager simply does not make sense for most small to medium enterprises who rarely have the luxury of the visionary leader striding out in front and creating chaos in his or her wake. Equally, there is little need for the manager who operates by simply setting up systems and processes without a direction.

So it’s important for SMEs to foster someone who can be a managerial leader – often they may be the only resource available to set the vision, create the path, develop the marketing strategy and also organise the rosters, accounting, supplier agreements, budgeting and handle upset customers. The successful managerial leader finds it more relevant to ask: “In a given situation, do I need to operate with leadership skills or with management skills?”

It is easy to forget that there are times to lead and times to manage, and it is too easy to slip into management mode when under stress.

In the real world the decision to be the leader or the manager in a given situation is not simple, especially in stressful times. However getting a blend of the two in place before stressful times hit is a good working start.

I facilitated an international company conference recently where a number of regional general managers shared their year that was and their year ahead. It was a blend of reporting followed by strategy. One regional general manager was adamant that detailed procedures were key to business success; another regional general manager was equally adamant that having the right people in the business was vital for success and that with good people in place the procedures would be unimportant. Each GM dug in and set up camp on their position.

Every day I see the same arguments. The leaders are focused on getting the “right people on the bus” and the managers are intent on creating quality systems and processes. In the real world, where the right people are on the bus supported by good systems, the managerial leader can function easily in the good times and has the freedom to make the right decisions in the stressful times.

If you or your team are experiencing “people issues” look for this rule of thumb: manage the processes and the procedures, but; lead, guide and teach the people.

If there are problems, check if you (or your leadership team) are confusing managing with leading.

It really is that simple – not that easy, but certainly that simple.

A truly effective leader has a genuine concern for the success of those he or she leads, treating all staff members as individuals, giving credit and ensuring that their people look good. A great leader keeps the objective out in front as a vision, as simple as possible – always promoting understanding, acting as a role model, living the organisation’s values and ‘walking the talk’. A great leader gets out of the way of people so that they can get on with their work and achieve their goals.

An effective leader will make the difference between success and failure in an organisation. An effective manager will create and implement great processes and systems to support the leadership vision – but this is not a substitute.

An effective managerial leader develops the vision, engages and encourages the team, then builds and supports the systems to create the vision.


Liz Cassidy, founder of Third Sigma International (www.thirdsigma.com.au), is a speaker, trainer and executive coach who helps clients get great business, professional and life results.



Are you a leader or a manager? Or both?

(intro)Are you a leader or a manager? Or have you got it right and as a managerial leader? Take our quick quiz to find out. Circle the answer most like you – be honest!

Looking into the organisation’s future,
are you more comfortable looking at

(a) This financial year

(b) 5 years’ time

With a problem, would you rather

(a) Write the procedure to fix it

(b) Challenge your team to come up with best solution

Would you describe yourself as

(a) High task

(b) High touch

In quiet moments do you

(a) Clear your inbox

(b) Daydream about the future

Do you walk around your business

(a) To find out what the issues are with the product/service

(b) To find out ideas from your people to make it better

Do you know how much

(a) Current debtor days are outstanding

(b) Your revenue will be in 2 years

Are rules there to

(a) Be adhered to – if we didn’t there would be anarchy

(b) Be changed to meet new business needs. After all I wrote the rules!

Is it more important to treat everyone

(a) The same, and be seen to be fair

(b) According to circumstances and need

In tough times do you

(a) Tighten the belt, cut spending

(b) Look for new ways to get more bang for your buck

Is your role to

(a) Deliver according to your job description

(b) Find new ways to deliver results

In times of stress do you

(a) Become very focused on the rules and procedures

(b) Pull together a creative team to problem solve

Are your company’s vision and values documented?

(a) They are well documented and in a picture frame in reception – everyone gets to see them

(b) They are a living document constantly updated to assist in making the right decisions

Do you talk to your customers

(a) To keep them onside

(b) To find out issues so you can make an even better product/ service

Do you go to conferences

(a) To measure where you are in relation to the competition

(b) To identify business trends and see new markets, niches others may not have spotted

Do you see yourself as

(a) a soldier – of rank

(b) a strategic general

If you answered a

12 or more times: You definitely wear the manager’s hat. Have you thought of getting out of your office and talking to your team to find out ways to make your procedures even better?

Between 6 and 11 times: You are a balanced managerial leader. Make sure you are using the right one of these two required skill sets when needed.

5 times or less: Are you walking through your organisation leaving a trail of chaos in your wake? Remember to look at the current bottom line so you will have enough cash flow to get you to where you want to go.

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Liz Cassidy

Liz Cassidy

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