All managers are leaders

March 5, 2009 · Print this post

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that more companies are recognizing the need to continue investing in developing and deepening leadership skills even in hard times.

That’s great, but the news is not all rosy. It’s a hard time for training in general — a hard time for business in general — and it infuriates me to see so much short-term thinking coming out of the back rooms and board rooms of companies whose decisions affect so many human lives. Bob Sutton makes a case for why knee-jerk layoffs are stupid response to economic woe (and I encourage any companies who are considering layoffs to pony up for the Harvard Business Review case study/commentary “The Layoff”). Layoffs are the most egregious kind of panic response, but it’s equally frustrating to see companies emphasizing “leadership” training for “senior” people.

Please. The people who most need whatever skills and tools we can give them are the people on the front lines of business everywhere — people who are making things, building things, fixing things, transporting goods, getting services out, getting payments in, putting groceries on the shelves and checking them out at the register. People who are doing the daily work of business. Yes, strategy and innovation are important, and they may save your company down the road, but today the people who are doing the work need all of us to be the best managers we can be.

All managers are leaders.

Training executives and senior managers at the expense of front-line managers and supervisors is dumb. Because productivity and effectiveness start at the local level — with the individual team. If that team’s manager is ineffective at communicating clearly, providing resources, sharing information, making decisions, managing conflicting priorities and keeping people focused, then it doesn’t matter that the vice president of the division is a great leader. It just doesn’t.

My bias is obvious, of course — my program is all about training managers. But I am not frustrated today because the Wall Street Journal implies that such programs can’t make money right now. I’m frustrated because companies don’t seem to understand that so-called “soft skills” — communicating clearly with co-workers, running effective meetings, agreeing on process — are what keep work flowing through their organizations. Real leadership would be doing whatever it takes to keep that pipeline as wide open as possible.

I believe that things will get better. American business, the business culture I know best, has a long history of being both ingenious and stubborn. We haven’t always been flexible, but we’re learning — we have to. And those much-derided soft skills are at the heart of the flexibility that will save us.

8 Responses to “All managers are leaders”

  1. Mark Silver on March 21st, 2009 6:55 am

    I love what you wrote here, Kelley. It reminds me of a quote from Paul Hawkins in his book “Growing a Business” where he remembers farm work and related that to business leadership: “You can manage a feed lot- you can’t ‘manage’ people. You ‘work with’ people. Stop managing and start listening to, working with, and helping the people at your company.”

    That’s not a direct quote- that’s a feeble paraphrase of what I remember. And it’s true. I was on the line with a rep from Qwest who just didn’t know how to listen, or take initiative with me, and as a result, no matter how good their executive leadership is, I’ve come away as an extremely frustrated customer who is contemplating leaving their service and using a competitor despite the cost and difficulty.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  2. Philip Osei Bediako on April 30th, 2009 3:35 am

    All managers are leaders but not all leaders are managers. discuss this as to a layman

  3. Kelley Eskridge on May 2nd, 2009 1:36 pm

    Philip, I think that all leaders are managers. Many people make a strong distinction between these roles and talk about them as if they have different skills. I don’t. I think that to be effective, people who are in charge of other people, and who are accountable for results at any level, are functioning every day as both leaders and managers.

    Leaders don’t lead ideas or businesses or movements, they lead people. And when there are people involved in a common effort, management skills are essential to the success of that effort. Whether she’s a CEO growing a company or a mailroom manager bringing in a new postage machine, the leader is managing — because she is responsible for creating the culture and expectations (managing) that will allow people to engage with, and successfully execute, her policies, goals and vision (leadership).

    For example: President Obama is leading the US, and managing his administration. He is creating a culture within which his Cabinet, staff and advisers can best accomplish the work that he thinks needs to be done. He’s not creating that culture by simply wandering around having a vision — he’s doing it through the management skills of clear roles and responsibilities, clear expectations, clear communication, and good process.

    That’s what I think about it. What do you think?

  4. suglo seth on May 4th, 2009 9:41 am

    all managers are leaders but not all leaders are managers. discuss.

  5. Kelley Eskridge on May 4th, 2009 10:02 am

    I just did. And given the similarity of these comments, perhaps I’ve just been unwittingly roped into doing someone’s homework: in which case, you should know that unless you learn to do your own work in this way, you won’t be much good to people as either a manager or a leader.

  6. HARRIET on June 1st, 2009 12:11 pm

    I am an I/O Psychology grad student. The reason I began this career goal is because I have spent years in the business industry in FL watching as management discounts and ignores the importance of the human element in the workplace, and feeling as though all the hard work in the world means nothing to short-sighted leaders. They also don’t give credence to the fact that without those humans, their business does not and cannot exist. Unless management celebrates their worker-bees and acknowledges their contribution to the work effort, they will rarely be successful. Even if their bottom line prospers, the turnover of unhappy, unappreciated employees costs money and time. A little appreciation goes a long way, and in these days of budget cuts and reorganizations, keeping good staff is tantamount to smart business practices.

  7. BISIKAY, PhD, LONDON, UK on July 3rd, 2009 4:12 pm

    Kelley has raised a great point of debate which could equally be translated to MANAGEMENT IS LEADERSHIP, AND LEADERSHIP IS MANAGEMENT? Are all leaders managers and are all managers leaders? Who is more inportant to a company’s productivity? Organisations and executives are constantly faced by this dilemma at various stages in their existence: to give priority to the STRATEGIC remit of the business LEADERSHIP or the EXECUTIVE remit of the MANAGEMENT. Often there are conflicts in organisations’ structure as to how emphasis should be laid, whereas both are very much required.
    The sysyem to balance this is a new executive mode called LEADAGEMENT, a systematic, synergetic and symphonic integration or hybridisation of both LEADERSHIP and MANAGEMENT systems. It is addressed fully in the new book:

  8. Dennis Omaba on February 26th, 2013 11:56 pm

    The Way I See It… All Leaders Manage, but not all Managers Lead

    Whilst all leaders have the ability to manage, only a small proportion of managers have the necessary skills to become strong leaders. According to Joanna Knight, director with Berkshire Consultancy Limited, this is because they do not possess the three core skills necessary to bridge the gap between maintaining the status quo and driving change. Here she identifies the differences between leadership and management and explains how individuals must develop their approach to take the next step.

    ‘Leadership’ is a misleading term as it can manifest itself at every level of an organisation. Whether employed as a managing director or a cleaner, individuals displaying strong leadership characteristics will exemplify good practice throughout their careers and exert far greater influence over others.

    Maintenance or evolution
    The role of a manager is to maintain the status quo, to ensure that things happen according to plan and to maintain consistency throughout operations. By contrast, a leader is judged on their ability to drive and affect change. Inevitably, a leader will have been a manager at some stage in their development, but the issue for many companies is that the individuals leading their organisation are still managers in all but name.

    To become a strong leader there are three areas in which individuals must excel. The imbalance or lack of ability in one or two of these areas prevents individuals from making the jump from management to leadership. Leadership skills can be taught, but much development activity does not address the need to balance these strengths equally.

    1. Knowing yourself
    The first characteristic that leaders must possess is an innate sense of self-awareness. Without being aware of themselves and the way in which they interact with others, individuals will see their progress hampered. Individuals must first appreciate their position and recognise their own unique contribution in order that they might appreciate the value that others can add. There is no one right way and a good leader will let people follow their own path rather than dictating things to them, providing they achieve desired results and adhere to core values/principles.

    This balance between adaptability and consistency is key in gaining the respect of employees. People will respond much more positively to individuals that engender respect and as such it is essential that leaders know what they stand for and are prepared to do what is needed to make it happen. Three hundred and sixty degree feedback can play an important role in helping individuals to heighten their sense of awareness, realise their strengths and weaknesses and afford them the opportunity to build and develop a team around them to move the business forward.

    2. Leading and influencing others
    Influencing skills are paramount for leaders and create an atmosphere in which people feel they are treated as peers rather than subordinates. The individual’s ability to influence the behaviour of others is closely linked to their ability to display the behaviour that they demand from others. Someone that doesn’t like challenge is unlikely to create an environment in which people are free to question one another.

    This is particularly important because it can have a direct impact on morale. If a manager works on the basis that if they do not comment on people’s work then everything is fine, the implication is that only negative feedback will be given and people are unlikely to be highly motivated or to understand how to achieve peak performance.

    Leaders must learn to deal with potentially difficult conversations effectively to demonstrate that they are able to take leadership on issues in order to resolve them. Executive coaching is an effective means of refining influencing skills and strategies.

    3. Maintaining a results driven focus
    The most important consideration for any business is the results that it is able to achieve and in order that this potential can be realised, people must be prepared to meet challenges and opportunities head-on. An environment that embraces challenge necessitates a greater work rate amongst staff and a 5% discretionary effort from 20 people is the equivalent to employing another person.

    An employee that feels valued is an employee that will work harder. In order that staff feel valued, they must be aware that their strengths are recognised, valued and developed and weaknesses are being monitored and addressed rather than being swept under the carpet.
    8 Sep 200