“It has become popular to talk about us being over-managed and under-led. I believe we are now over-led and under-managed.” – Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do – and Can Do Better(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)
Much has been written about the difference between leaders and managers.
“Leaders are people who do the right thing,” note leadership experts Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003). “Managers are people who do things right.”
As they further explain: “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”
While this distinction is correct, it has unintended negative effects. Some leaders now believe their job is about coming up with big ideas. They dismiss executing these ideas, engaging in conversation and planning the details as mere “management” work.
Worse still, many leaders cite this distinction as the reason why they’re entitled to avoid the hard work of learning about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve.
What Managers Actually Do
According to traditional management theorists, managers are supposed to plan, organize, coordinate and control. In truth, the pressures of reacting to urgent matters supplant most reflection and planning.
Managers respond to daily crises, take on too much work, operate with continuous interruptions and make instant decisions. They have no time to step back and consider bigger issues – a problem that often causes them to act with superficial, fragmented information.
In a classic November 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact,” Mintzberg outlines 10 daily management roles that fall within three broad categories:
1. Interpersonal Category (3 Roles)
a. Figurehead. You represent your group to your organization and the community at large.
b. Leader. You hire, train and motivate employees.
c. Liaison. You maintain contact with colleagues and stakeholders outside your immediate chain of command.
2. Informational Category (3 Roles)
a. Monitor. You leverage your personal network to scan the environment for vital information.
b. Disseminator. You feed information to subordinates who lack your access to critical data.
c. Spokesperson. You provide information on behalf of your unit to senior management and outside organizations.
3. Decisional Category (4 Roles)
a. Entrepreneur. You initiate projects to improve your unit’s processes or profits.
b. Disturbance Handler. You manage crises precipitated by employees, customers, suppliers, systems or accidents.
c. Resource Allocator. You decide who will get what, coordinate the impact of interrelated decisions and allocate managerial time.
d. Negotiator. You use strategic information to resolve grievances, establish contracts and promote shared decisions.
If you want to improve your managerial skills, take a good look at what actually happens each day:
How do you spend your time?
In which activities are you engaged?
Are you really operating in all 10 pivotal roles?
Where do you need help?
5 Effective Managerial Mindsets
Mintzberg further describes five critical managerial mindsets:
Managing oneself (reflective mindset). A reflective mindset allows you to be thoughtful, examine familiar experiences in a new light, and set the stage for developing innovative products and services.
Managing organizations (analytical mindset). An analytical mindset ensures that you make decisions based on in-depth data.
Managing context (worldly mindset). A worldly mindset helps you operate in diverse regions, with the cultural and social insights needed to serve varied customers.
Managing relationships (collaborative mindset). A collaborative mindset fosters relationship-building among the individuals and teams who produce your products and services. Instead of managing people, focus on managing your relationships with them.
Managing change (action mindset). An action mindset energizes you to create and expedite the best plans for achieving strategic goals.
Expecting managers to excel in all five managerial mindsets misses Mintzberg’s point. Managers are people, not superheroes. But when they’re at least somewhat familiar with each way of thinking, they can more easily recognize which skills are needed and appropriately switch mindsets.
The Care and Feeding of Managers
CEOs who wish to retain top managers need to see them as important resources and nurture them accordingly. Managers are the single greatest factor in retaining employees (Gallup Organization, State of the American Workplace, 2012).
CEOs should provide their managers with development opportunities and professional coaching. Companies that offer coaching enjoy marked performance improvements – not only from managers, but from those who report to them, as well.
Executive coaching grants managers time to practice introspection, which is necessary for ongoing learning. Job pressures frequently drive managers to take on too much work, encourage interruptions, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid the abstract, and make decisions in small increments. Effective managers consciously deal with these pressures.
Becoming a More Effective Manager
Conquer the challenges associated with managerial demands by developing introspection skills and insights:
Be aware of which roles you naturally prefer. Don’t ignore those that make you uncomfortable. Stretch beyond your usual limits.
Be sure to disseminate information to others so you can delegate more and help your people grow more self-sufficient.
Avoid the traps of superficial decision-making because of time pressures. Make use of other experts and analysts.
Schedule time for the tasks you believe are most important. Don’t let daily pressures crowd out time for reflection, innovation or other critical values.
The Right Management Mix
Stanford University Management Professor Robert I. Sutton notes in “True Leaders Are Also Managers,” an August 2010 Harvard Business Review blog post:
“I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management.
“Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.”
As an adjunct to Bennis’ oft-quoted distinction between managers and leaders, Sutton proposes the following:
“To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”
When we praise the value of leadership and begin to denigrate management’s role, we greatly risk failing to act on these experts’ obvious, yet powerful, messages.