“Trouble at Mill?” – Leadership v Management: What’s the Difference?
21st October 2009
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I recently read an article that suggested that when it comes to slackers, sickies and whiners management is to blame.  The article suggested that the problem was down to the absence of some simple management actions and procedures. The recommended management interventions seemed to make sense and included steps such as:

  • Minimising the opportunity for time wasting by ensuring that staff had clear objectives.
  • Minimise the opportunity for staff to ”swing the lead” with unjustified sick days by logging sick days. I have also heard it recommended that a return to work interview significantly reduces the absenteeism problem.
  • Measure staff performance and make sure that they know they will have to discuss their performance regularly.
  • Make sure they feel accountable because they could let other people down.

These are indeed practical steps but I am not sure that alone such management actions will fix the problem. In fact I am sure that they don’t. Indeed the problem lies with managers, but it’s more likely not to do with management inadequacy but lack of leadership. It’s crucial that managers become more than managers, they need to become excellent leaders.

Management Only Makes it Worse

The symptoms identified in the article are really indicators of poorly engaged staff. Poorly engaged staff do not work well and are not committed to company success. This has a direct impact on the bottom line, profitability or more crudely put, making money. It is an issue of motivation and simply adding management process misses this point, they will have little if any affect on staff motivation. Regardless of management processes a disgruntled and poorly motivated workforce remains disgruntled and poorly motivated. As a consequence, the quality of their work will remain low. In fact while the imposition of the management process may a sensible intervention, alone they may make things worse.

The most crucial factor in companies that have a highly engaged workforce is excellent leadership. Not simply management but leadership and not just any leadership at that, but excellent leadership.

Zengler & Folkman’s studies show that poor leaders have incredibly low levels of staff engagement; i.e. a workforce with low levels of commitment to business success and personal achievement. That manifests itself in slackers, sickies and whiners. They go on to show that excellent leaders have correspondingly excellent levels of staff commitment and engagement in their teams. Towers Perrin’s research over 12 months in 2007/8 shows that companies with highly engaged staff grew their earnings by up to 20% while those without saw earnings decline by up to 30%. Which kind of company do you want to be?

Management v Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Excellent leadership has been well defined by Kouzes and Posner and that model has been tried and tested by millions of leaders since the 80s, and it comes up trumps every time. Excellent leaders engage in five practices:

  • Modelling the way by creating and practicing excellence;
  • Inspiring a shared vision by being passionate and enlisting others in the vision;
  • Challenging the process by innovating to enhance excellence in the organisation;
  • Enabling others to act by empowering and encouraging staff to build spirited teams and;
  • Encouraging the heart by recognising and celebrating individual achievement.

So what is the difference between management and leadership? 

From the most straightforward perspective management is about process, control and constraint. Leadership, however, is about taking people on a journey, about jointly achieving a goal and reaching a destination.  That is why management alone can never address the discontent of a workforce.

Discontent is about lack of motivation, lack of belonging and lack of commitment. Adding process, control and constraint to discontent is a volatile mixture that risks making things worse. Motivation, belonging and commitment result only from leadership; the better the leadership the greater the commitment from the workforce and with that comes better quality, better productivity, better customer satisfaction and better profits.

Which are you?

So when it comes to slackers, sickies and whiners by all means we need structure and process but don’t for a minute think that these alone will fix the wayward staff. Managers need to ask themselves the leadership questions: “Am I an excellent leader?” 

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