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How to balance management and leadership for maximum effect

Leader or manager? Which sounds more powerful, more interesting, more exciting? Most people would say being a leader is much more fulfilling than merely managing. However, this black and white thinking negatively effects people’s potential.

To run a business, team or enterprise effectively, there needs to be solid management and inspirational leadership. Typically, leaders focus on the big picture – the high level, overarching objectives. They inspire, they direct, they lead.

Managers focus more on getting it done. They organise, they plan, and they oversee the day-to-day operations. This may sound mundane and therefore less important than leading, but both skill sets are needed for real-life, long-term success, both in business and in life.

Why you must balance management and leadership

To be the best leader possible, you must balance management and leadership skills, and understand the difference. Here’s why this is so important.

Inexperienced managers, or managers that have demonstrably low emotional intelligence, ignore the importance of soft skills. Instead, they drive their teams to get the job finished, with no finesse and no understanding of interpersonal relationships.

These types of managers think that key leadership skills, such as motivating, empathising, encouraging and mentoring, just aren’t important. In reality, their teams will be less receptive and less responsive. Managers with poor people skills will usually find it difficult to motivate their team to do overtime, for example, or to go the extra mile where needed. They end up with teams who do the bare minimum and are unhappy.

A hypothetical example can be seen in a new manager pushing his team to make deadlines and achieve its goals. He thinks he has performed brilliantly when they smash their goals, but the team is resentful. They don’t like his narrow-minded focus on deadlines and feel ignored and unimportant. Without an epiphany concerning the importance of developing his soft skills, this manager is likely to stall in his own career and fail to be promoted.

These types of managers are a hangover from an old-fashioned management style that focused on efficiency over and above anything else. Today’s business world revolves around open communication and allowing employees to make their own way to a solution. This is why employees of today need a manager who is also a leader.

It’s not an either or situation

Leadership and management skills should not be separate. Team members look to managers for their instruction, but also for guidance, mentorship, encouragement and constructive feedback.

Communicating the importance of the company’s overarching goals, and how they tie into each employee is a crucial aspect of management. And it takes a leader to do this. It’s just as important to develop excellent relationships with your employees as it is to ensure they are doing their job well and serving clients or customers effectively.

All levels of management should learn how to balance soft skills with organisational skills, and how to work with all kinds of people in a positive way. Understand your team’s motivations and career aspirations is important, as is working with them in a way that will develop these. Yes, it’s important to get the job done, but the skill lies in how you do so.

Are you a leader, manager or both?

For a manager to meet their targets and deadlines, and mentor and support their team, they need both leadership and managerial skills. Here’s how you can strike the appropriate balance between leadership and management and know when to focus on each one.

1. Consider whether work is getting done to a high standard without your direct intervention. If this is the case, then your role is to motivate and support your team, and not micromanage their tasks. In other words, to lead the team.

If the work isn’t getting done without you, then it’s time to actively manage the work. Ask your team why it’s not getting done and what is impeding their performance. Listen closely to their answers and work with them to make the appropriate changes.

2. Think about whether you focus more on process or results. If it’s the latter, then that is good news. The result is always the most important thing. If you find that you focus more on the process, then set yourself a challenge to live with the reality that there are lots of ways of getting the results you need. Work on being more flexible in your approach and trust your team to work through alternatives.

3. Are you a magnet for other people in the company who need advice? If you find many colleagues knocking on your office door specifically for advice, then you are likely considered a leader. If you tend to ask for advice more than dole it out, then think about changing the way you work so that you can inspire other people more.

4. Do you skip explaining why you want something when you issue jobs to your team? If you ask employees to get something done, without explain the background and context, then they’re less likely to go above and beyond to do the job. People are more likely to go further and try harder when they understand the full context of a request.

5. Do you accept that the buck stops with you if things go wrong? Or do you prefer to delegate responsibility to your team? A leader will always understand that it is their responsibility for the team’s failure – or success.

Understand your own motivations first

Beneath all of these questions about your leadership and management style is whether you can fully understand both your own, and your team’s, motivations. A manager without leadership skills lacks the ability to ask the right questions, understand their team, and empathise with employees.

Being able to listen properly, communicate and motivate your team are vital components of a successful leader. Without these, a manager can’t be an innovator, nor can they boost productivity over the long-term. These are the goals of every business.

Businesses should teach staff how to manage, but also how to lead. Management is simpler to teach, as it relies on following procedures and ticking boxes. But leadership is a much more nuanced skill. Invest in yourself and learn how you can balance that fine line between management and leadership.