The other day someone asked me if I thought management was bad and leadership good and that was a bit of a wake-up call for me – was I getting a message across in a way that inadvertently was suggesting this to be the case.  So – I think I had better put the record straight and say very clearly up front that no, most definitely I am not suggesting that for one second.

I use this as a definition and have said it many times so forgive me for repeating it again here.  “Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of and it is very much about control.  Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves and it is more about freedom”.

So, assuming that you can ‘buy in’ to this as a reasonably comfortable definition, what am I suggesting is the real difference between these two styles and when might one use one versus the other?

There are many, many hugely successful individuals who use management as a style rather than leadership – they have teams that are hugely motivated, successful and continually get great results.  These individuals can go into an organisation and take over a poor performing team and can transform them into an excited, highly motivated group of people that keep delivering fabulous results.  How do they do it?  Mostly by sharing all the things that have made them so successful over the years, coming up with great ideas, and in many ways trying to give them all that is possible to make them as much like they are as possible.  And it works – and works well!  However, does it work forever, is it sustainable even when that manager leaves and does it really release the potential of each person within that team.  This is where I have my doubts.

The best example that I can give you of this is when I had a Regional Manager from one of our retail clients come through our leadership programme.  He was the highest performing manager in the company and his division always came in with the top results.  I did observe that their life balance for each of them was severely out of kilter, which personally I consider sad as having a really great home life is very important.  The majority of us work to live not the other way round.  He was getting really frustrated as he really believed that they could still do better and no matter how much he pushed and encouraged performance had reached a plateau.  They were still top of the ‘leader board’ but he knew they could go higher and deliver yet more.  He was demonstrating all the behaviours of an ‘outstanding manager’ and felt there really was nothing more he could do – he had reached the stage of feeling helpless.  Now, when he joined the company and taken on this team it was clearly under-performing so what he had achieved was excellent and he was recognised accordingly.

What were the behaviours that he was demonstrating – the major things that were impacting his ability to raise the performance even more was that all ideas for improvement were coming from him.  They were all coming to him with their challenges, opportunities and problems, either asking him for his suggestions or ‘running it past the boss’ before pushing the button.  On top of that all his focus was on where things were not as good as they could be with him giving advice as to how to improve it.  His communication was all about ‘let me tell you’ and was all coming from ‘I’ plus he was continually looking for what was wrong.  They had become totally reliant on him to the point that even when he went on holiday his mobile went with him and he remained totally available to them if there was something where they felt they needed advice.  If he didn’t get a phone call he would worry and call in to check on what was happening.  He had almost become addicted to being the No 1 and was determined to stay there no matter what the cost.

Working with him to prove how successful he had been to this point and now it needed a different style was interesting to say the least!  What was now needed was to enable each person in his team to think for himself or herself and be able to fly WITHOUT HIM!!  He now had to keep his mouth shut, give them no ideas of his own but keep asking them questions to help them find their own solutions.  And this was after they had had many months of never having to think for themselves so it was tough on them.  All his focus and communication needed to change to looking for and then telling them the things they were doing well, even the little things, plus having the majority of his communication about ‘you’.  He needed to become very skilled at listening and asking powerful incisive questions.  Just to put this in perspective, when he attended the programme and we measured his communicating behaviour he was 99% in the ‘I’ and 1% in the ‘you’!!!  He was scared s……s!!!

He did ‘get it’ and was determined to change his style even though he found it incredibly difficult in the early days.  He had habits that had been ingrained for years of driving performance and caring for his people so much that he wanted to help and guide them all the time.  He was also worried sick that now performance would drop without him driving it!  The reality was that for a couple of months performance did plateau – it didn’t drop but it didn’t improve – for the first two months.  After that it began to take off and performance went up gradually and then gathered momentum and exceeded by far anything they had every done before.  Motivation improved and people’s home lives became so much better which equaled a happier team.  What he was forced to realise was that what had actually been holding back the full potential of the individuals and the team was him!

So – coming back to where I started let me say very clearly that management was almost certainly exactly the right style for when he joined the company and took on a team that was under-performing and feeling pretty down and wanting some evidence that they could actually be good.  He did a fantastic job.  What he hadn’t realised was that he now needed to become a leader so that they could now grow into their full potential and, who knows, become even better than him!  To keep him on the straight and narrow he actually decided to become a trainer of the leadership programme so that he had a constant reminder and was setting himself up quite deliberately to then get feedback when he began to slip ….. as we all do!

Penny has worked with businesses like British Gas and Metrobank to inspire long lasting positive change within the company, in order to take steps towards success and leadership. Contact her at The Living Leader to book an appointment or to book her to speak at one of your events. She is also on Facebook and Twitter! Feel free to leave your thoughts and comment below.