Articles

Managers Do Things, Leaders Do People

February 10, 2020 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Let us be quite clear that both good management and good leadership are required for sustainable organisational performance. Management, however, is a process and set of practices which are best applied to things (like money, facilities, systems, inventory, etc). Leadership on the other hand is a process and set of practices pertinent to people.

The problem arises when management is applied to people. It literally reduces people to the status of things.

More specifically, this problem presents itself in organisations where those who have people reporting to them, for whom they are responsible, are managers, not leaders.

Managers are different from leaders in five vital respects.

  1. MANAGERS ARE HERE TO ‘TAKE’, LEADERS ARE HERE TO ‘GIVE.

Managers and leaders have a fundamentally different view of what they are here to DO and for what PURPOSE. Managers think that their job is to get results out of people. Leaders know that their prime purpose is to care for and cultivate excellence in their people. Managers in their essence are here to “take” while leaders are here to “give” to their people.

2.  MANAGERS GET THE WORK DONE THROUGH PEOPLE, LEADERS GET THE PEOPLE DONE THROUGH THE WORK.

This difference in intent or motive evidences itself in what managers perceive to be means and ends. A manager’s end or objective is to get the job done or results achieved. By definition people are the means to that end. Managers, in other words, commoditise people. While they are “our greatest assets” in good times, they are “an unfortunate cost” in adverse conditions – which, like any costs, need to be reduced. People are human resources to be used, or even used up, in order to achieve the results. Leaders make an essential shift in what they see as means and ends. They view the tasks/results as a means to cultivate exceptional people. Managers get the work done through the people; leaders get the people done through the work.

3.  MANAGERS TOLERATE MEDIOCRITY, LEADERS INSIST ON EXCELLENCE. 

Managers don’t care if their people are mediocre or excellent as long as they produce the results. On the contrary, leaders are relentless in the pursuit of excellence in their people as an end in itself. Leaders do whatever is required for their people to be the best that they can be, whether they like it or not. This is because they know that sustainable organisational excellence is not possible with lacklustre people.

4.  MANAGERS SEEK TO CHANGE THEIR PEOPLE, LEADERS STRIVE TO CHANGE THEMSELVES.

Managers want their people to change because they believe that the change in their people’s performance, ownership and willingness, will deliver a better result. Leaders rather seek to change themselves. Instead of doing things to their people to motivate them they seek to become the kind of person who their people are motivated by. They make themselves the project because they are convinced that the cause and effect chain works as follows: only when leaders change do their people change, which then leads to a different result.

5.  MANAGERS HAVE PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS, LEADERS FORGE PERSONAL CONNECTIONS WITH THOSE IN THEIR CHARGE. 

Lastly, managers and leaders differ in the nature of the relationships they have with their people. Good managers at least have “professional” relationships with their people such that there are reasonable levels of respect and trust between the parties. Leaders have something more. They have “personal” relationships with their people. They bond with them at a deeper level and, as a result of this, their people are prepared to walk through fire for them. What generates the personal bond is that leaders sincerely care about their people as human beings, not human resources. They deliberately and consciously choose to put their people’s interests before their own. Consequently they grow in stature in their people’s eyes and then, and only then, are their people prepared to sacrifice for them.

The transformation of managers into leaders is not easy. It amounts to a fundamental change, not in the head but in the heart. Nothing less is what is required, however, if organisations are to become places where (in Simon Sinek’s words) “people wake up inspired, feel safe at work, and return home fulfilled at the end of the day”.

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