Become a Manager who Leads

Kevin P. Dincher

A long-time client surprised me last week. He called to update me on his pursuit of a new position within his company and in the course of our conversation said that his CEO “is an extremely talented manager but not much of a leader.” The assessment itself didn’t surprise me; I have known this CEO for over 30 years and agree completely. What did surprise me was hearing Dave make the distinction. We have often talked about the differences between managing and leading. Like most people, however, Dave generally use the terms interchangeably and doesn’t really make a distinction day-to-day—just the kind of thing that drives leadership experts like John Kotter crazy.

For over 40 years, Kotter has been on a mission to get people to think about the distinction between management and leadership. Our ongoing transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy, however, has made Kotter’s work much more difficult. We still need to understand the difference between management and leadership, but it is increasingly difficult to be an effective manager without also being a good leader.

In the Industrial Age, ownership of capital—i.e., factories—was the basis of wealth, and in those factories, manual workers were to a great degree undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine to be managed. Managers didn’t have to give much thought to what they were producing or to the people who were producing it. Managers followed orders, organized the work, allocated resources, assigned the right people to the necessary tasks, and ensured completion of the job as ordered. A good manager was one who could keep a large, complex organization operating reliably and efficiently.

Things are different in the Information Age when the basis of wealth is access to people’s knowledge. As management guru Peter Drucker foresaw, the rise of the knowledge worker has profoundly changed the way business operates (Management Challenges of the 21st Century).  If you are a manager in the Information Age, to be successful you can no longer simply organize work and assign tasks. You need to be a manager who leads.

  • You need to define purpose and inspire results. While manual workers could focus narrowly on the specific task assigned them, knowledge workers can only produce if they know how their work fits into and contributes to the big picture. They need to know the purpose of their work—and they look to you to provide that purpose.
  • You need to nurture skills and develop talent. Continuing innovation is part of knowledge work; therefore, knowledge work requires continuous learning.  In the Information Age, it has become your job to create a climate for learning and to design work not just for efficiency but to build competence. You now need to be a coach and a mentor while facilitating formal and informal learning opportunities.
  • You need to treat workers as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” These days we hear a great deal about employee engagement, satisfaction and retention—and the high cost of turnover. The crux of the matter, however, is that the basis of wealth in the Information Age is access to people’s knowledge. Disengaged manual workers may become slow or sloppy—but the assembly line keeps them moving, and they still need to get the nut on the bolt. However, when knowledge workers become dissatisfied and disengage, then you lose access to your primary asset—their knowledge. Knowledge workers need to want to work for you and your company. Therefore, you have to create the working and cultural conditions in which employees not only feel challenged by their work but are recognized and valued as well.

Engage employees. Nurture skills and develop talent. Define purpose and inspire results. Now we’re talking about leadership rather than management.  There are still good reasons for understanding the difference between management and leadership—and one of them is that it is increasingly necessary that good managers learn to be good leaders. In the world of knowledge workers, Drucker said, “one does not manage people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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