Managers vs. Leaders – What’s the difference and how do you help your senior employees make the shift?
As the middle of a challenging decade approaches, it might be a natural point to ask ourselves where our next leaders are coming from. Are we developing them? Encouraging them? Are we even identifying them properly?
The words “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably. However, the types of people who possess both abilities are rare. Not only are leaders and managers often fundamentally different in temperament, but the skill sets are quite different as well. Still, it is vital to your success to examine your management team to analyze whether your senior employees focus strictly on executing the details or on planning for the future. Could you honestly refer to your senior management as the “senior leadership”?
In a nutshell, managers manage things. They focus on executing, on directing processes, coordinating and organizing support functions, solving problems and maintaining standards. This kind of focus, while necessary, seldom provides the foresight necessary for planning the future growth of the company. Managerial types typically speak against initiatives that challenge the current way of thinking. Change is often difficult for managers, and they like to make sure that their goals are fairly easy to obtain.
On the other hand, leaders lead people. They have a way of perceiving order through chaos. Leaders have a distinctive goal in mind – typically a “stretch goal” – and may see multiple strategies for reaching that goal. They often assume new responsibilities, which is why someone once noted that leaders don’t wait for titles. They also have the ability to inspire and motivate other employees to follow them on the journey to reach new heights, while at the same time nurturing growth in their colleagues.
From a Wall Street Journal article comes this gem: “The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.”
In order to be successful, companies need managers who are also able to lead. The question then arises, how do you find the right leaders and develop their skills?
1. Identify managers who have the potential to be great leaders. Keep in mind that just because someone has been at the company for a long time doesn’t mean that they are destined for leadership. Make sure the person is not only good at setting and obtaining goals but also willing to look at different paths to get there. Make sure that the employee has good delegation skills. Managers may look over their employees’ shoulders and micro-manage, but leaders know that this practice produces burnout in both parties. True leaders inspire performance from team members by demonstrating faith in their team and trusting them to get the work done.
Take a look to ensure the manager is passionate about the future of the company. They need to be inspired not by their job but by the potential they see in where your organization could go. Leaders have that “it” factor—charisma to move mountains and hundreds of people.
Think down the road to the next five, ten or twenty years. Can you see this person leading their division or the entire company? If so, how would things be different? Would they be better or worse? What kind of initiatives would you reasonably expect from this person? These are the questions to ask when you consider if a manager has what it takes to be a leader.
2. Create a leadership development program. The textile rental services industry is unusual compared to others. Managers tend to stay within the industry for many years. While it sometimes takes a while to see the benefits of a training program, it is a great way to enhance the long-term viability of your leadership team and to ease the pressure of succession planning.
We recommend starting a mentoring program. Once you have strong leaders at the top, have each one select one middle manager and one fairly new employee from their area of expertise to mentor. This means monthly meetings and special projects selected to help the less experienced managers develop their strategic thinking skills and become more well-rounded. Have these managers present their progress on these projects on a quarterly basis to the whole senior leadership team. This could be research on competitors and trends, ways to compress costs, how to use mobile technology more effectively, etc. Challenge them to think outside the parameters of what has been done in the past and to make new recommendations. Set a rule for these presentations that for every problem that is presented, two potential solutions must be suggested.
Consider an interdepartmental training program that has mentees spending a day every other month with other leaders within the organization. On the off months, employees should shadow someone in another department. This will help them to develop proficiencies in a number of areas – or at least learn to appreciate the perspectives of various departments. (In our industry specifically, departments tend to isolate themselves. For more information on breaking down silos in your company, click here.)
3. Create a forward-thinking culture. Let’s be honest. The textile rental industry is not exactly known for being modern and proactive in its approach to business. That said, you can create a culture internally that sets stretch goals and works to find new ways to reach them. What can we learn from other industries? Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and your leadership team to try new things. Push to be forward-thinking and reward your team for taking calculated risks that could pay off.
It is easy to fall into the trap of doing things just because our competitors do it or “that’s just the way we’ve always done it.” This type of thinking can stifle new ideas that could lead to innovative ways to drive success. It is imperative to continue to challenge your leadership team to find new ways to service your customers, refine your operations, improve production, and drive sales and growth.
This new mindset of innovation can be tough to develop, especially when you consider that senior leadership team members should challenge themselves and each other to constantly model this new way of thinking. Once you begin to develop a culture of openness, you’ll be able to see which managers show greater promise to become leaders, and you’ll give good leaders the opportunity to be great.
As your senior leadership creates an environment that values inspiration and is forward-thinking, your employees will follow their lead. This in turn will create more innovative employees and eventually, positively impact your bottom line.
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