Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
Picture of a man staring at a lake

Quiz: Are you a manager or a leader?

You are near your breaking point. You have ten staff reporting to you and a maximum of three are working at any one time. You need to coordinate schedules and plan daily activities. Your frustration is compounded by the fact that some people like email, some prefer texting, one is in love with WhatsApp, and one refuses to use any mobile device at all. You seem to spend half your time figuring out how to get messages to each of your staff.

You weigh all the factors and determine that email is the only common thread. It is the only platform that everyone can access, since your organization does not provide mobile devices to your staff. You also come up with some common language to be used in the emails to optimize communication.

Is this leading or managing?

Now with the system figured out you realize that you have a big challenge ahead of you to get the team on board. You know the two texters likely don’t even know how to email and will think it is very uncool to use something their parents use; you know the WhatsApp person thinks that all email in monitored by the CIA; and you know your person with no device will be worried that this is the first step in a plan to make him conform to society. You think about the challenge and you decide to sit with each person individually and explain the problem you face trying to coordinate the department, explain how you intend to solve it, ask if they have any other ideas (and coach yourself to be ready to adapt the plan if necessary), and then ask them if they can buy into the plan. Only then will you be ready to announce the plan to the group.

You carry out your communication plan and the team comes along willingly. You reflect on how, years ago, you would have rammed this plan down everyone’s throat, and spent months fighting to try and force people to follow the plan.

Which approach is an example of managing? And which approach is an example of leading?

In the case of coming up with a common system for everyone to use, this is managing

In the case of figuring out how to get people on board with this new system and being open to their ideas, this is leading.

There are many different definitions of leadership vs management. None is truly right or wrong. But the best one I have found, the one that serves me the best is this:

  • Management is what you do to things or processes – you manage things and processes
  • Leadership is what you do to people – you lead people

As in the example above, you need to treat people much differently than objects or processes. The more we respect the difference, the more effective we will be as leaders of people.

So, are you a manager or a leader?