ARTICLES - PERFORMANCE

Do I Manage or do Do I Lead? Orchestrating Change as a Leader Rather than a Manager

There was a time (not all that long ago) that I felt the economic pressures on one of my businesses. I knew we had to cut costs and increase revenues to survive. I concluded that I could only accomplish this by "managing" details of the operations and "managing" personnel better. Of course I felt the problem was inadequate planning and poor productivity of everyone else (now isn't that a novel concept?) After attempting to strategize with my executive board we all concluded that we could correct the problems by increasing the supervision of expenditures and by pressuring personnel to produce more. (Another unique concept: decrease costs and increase sales by management pressure). 

As time passed the problems seem to worsen. Not only did we continue to have difficulty "managing " costs, our efforts at "managing" people also were clearly ineffective.

Was the basic concept wrong? No! It was not the fundamental principles of business that caused us to fall short of our goals, nor was it the sincerity of the "managers" to do their best to help the company. 

What was it then? It was the lack of understanding with respect to "leading" to get change verses "managing" to get change. 

John P. Kotter, of Harvard Business School, has conducted extensive research on the actions of those who "lead" verses those who just "manage" (What Leaders Really Do, Harvard Business Review Book, 1999). He says, "managing" is not necessarily "leading", and it is primarily "leading" that successfully encourages the change that is necessary for businesses to survive in the highly competitive world today.

So what is the difference? 

Kotter states, management serves a different purpose than leadership. Management has as its primary purpose to keep the current system functioning, while the fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change.
Margaret Wheatley, in her most recent book, Leadership and the New Science,2nd Ed. (Berrett-Koehler, 1999) asserts, "leaders are also obligated to help the whole organization look at itself, to be reflective and 
learningful about its activities and decisions".

So what do we do to become better leaders vs. remain only managers?

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The critical elements of leading change verses managing change are as follows.

1. Know where you are going.  If you don't know, how can you expect to get there? Managing assumes you are already there and the primary necessity is to manage the situation as it is now. Leaders not only have a vision of what they want/need, they strategize with others and develop a specific plan to get them there.

2. Inform others of your vision, goals and plans.If you fail to communicate your expectations and your rationale, it is very likely you will get resistance to any positive changes. People will often misunderstand your leadership motives without adequate information. Don't just manage information, share it. More information equals greater investment in a productive outcome.

3. Lead by making others leaders. Ask for others' ideas on implementing changes verses making the decision on your own. Also, let others decide on the "tools" needed to accomplish the tasks that will get the changes. They may know more about what they will need than you do.

4. Let others take the responsibility for the outcomes and give them the freedom to determine the means by which the outcomes are achieved. When they become stagnated ask them to identify why, verses telling them your interpretation. Question managers regarding the effects of the process of change on the personnel involved. Lead responsibly, showing care and concern verses treating individuals like machines that are there just to produce the products needed for the company. When you show respect, others show respect and take responsibility.

5. Continually re-evaluate (on a regular basis) in order to keep changes within a reasonable time frame. When something is not working, don't wait endlessly for things to work that "should" work. Do something else, and/or reset time lines to be reasonable. Regularly check with the implementers for ways to support their ideas on how to solve problems that arise. Don't criticize; focus on team decisions and
team solutions with an emphasis on what can be done vs. what can't be done. Let others tell you why 
their way can work. Listen verses telling everyone what you think. Make them feel bright and creative 
vs. showing how intelligent you are. 

6. Clearly communicate any constraints so as to identify the boundaries that affect the company and the resources. Help others to understand the "big" picture and how it can be positive for them as well as the company.  Don't just hold the information as a secret.

7. Be creative in seeking out new resources to be used to bolster the changes as they are made.

8. Reward cooperation vs. competition.

9. Focus on issues and outcomes that are measurable vs. abstract concepts. Don't focus on individuals and personalities as problems. Behavior is what counts when assessing what influences outcomes.

10. Encourage people to raise the standard vs. doing everything as it has been done.  Just "ok" is not enough. Focus on capabilities, especially as a team, vs. individuals or limits.


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The excitement of leading vs. managing is stimulating and effective. Knowing you are contributing to others' successes makes you far more effective, as well as a good leader. 

Learning to be skilled at leadership is a process that takes determined focus and great restraint so you
don't return to managing in the ways that may have become most comfortable for you.

The challenge is to "lead" in order to get the most profitable changes for your company, your personnel, 
and yourself.

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