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Leadership vs. Management

Matt Henson
Jun 17, 2017

Is leadership the same as managing? Does being a good leader equate to being a good manager? While I believe there are tenets of both that are similar and at times overlap, these are really two different skill sets. Differentiated leaders have the ability to flex between both skill sets effectively. In order to understand the similarities and disparities, first we must understand what they both are, and by extension what they are not. In the context of this article, we will focus on the people-managing leader.
Management is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” This is being more driven around a process of oversight of how something is accomplished. At the core of effective management is the ability to deliver, either via process, people or both, a product that meets quality standards with a defined timeline. Managing is more about reducing or removing errors, while maintaining or increasing productivity.
Leadership is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The action of leading a group of people or an organization.” Leadership is about engaging people with a vision or target by which they can align themselves and their actions to. Effective leaders set out the course for enrolling the hearts and minds of the group such that they want to give their 100 percent effort—that they are aligned to a higher purpose than just getting the base tenets of the job done. Strong leaders are focused on maximizing potential at the individual, team, department or company level. It is this focus on leveraging others in a coordinated fashion that creates the environment where employees want to be a part of something larger than themselves and by extension, freely give of their discretionary effort.
Why is this important?
Direct management, supervision and oversight is extremely important, however it is focused on the transactional event. Organizations must deliver quality products timely. High-performing teams have the clarity of purpose, defined ownership and accountability that drives them to embody the leader’s vision. Discretionary effort is defined when the employee goes above just getting the job done; rather wants to see it done well and engage without being told to do so. High performing teams will give their discretionary effort because they are operating not just for themselves, but the good of the whole. The leading manager is one who is able to flex between the responsibilities of the tactical manager/direct supervisor and the strategic visionary leader.
Typical manager
Given this line of thought around the role of the manager, one must question where organizations typically find their next manager.  In many cases, organizations simply take the most qualified technician or practitioner and then promote them into the role of manager. Once the employee has been promoted, often they are left to their own devices with little or no training as to how to manage. This technical expert will most likely revert to what they are the most comfortable with, which is personally dealing in the details and minutia of the job. Typically they will take on the most complex tasks and/or play the role of the relief valve/hero that swoops in to the save the day when all else was going wrong.
Often the typical manager is only operating with the experience and knowledge that has been provided to them either through the example of their past or current manager. In the vacuum of organizations having well-defined managerial expectations, processes, training, vision or support, the typical manager will emulate the behaviors that works for them. We have all seen or at least heard of the manager who believes in the “do as I say not as I do.” Or the manager who reigns from a position of micro-managing or fear for your job. These managers will never fully reach the discretionary effort that is the hallmark of the truly engaged employee.
Differentiated managing leader
Good leaders need to be able to accurately assess the current situation, have a plan for the future state, be able to communicate and then execute the plan. Good leaders need to be able to meet people where they are and recognize that one size does not fit all. Simply put, good leaders need to be able to engage with their employees and listen to them to understand what drives each employee. Once the strengths and areas of opportunity have been identified, the good leader is able to align these to the needs of the organization. It is this alignment that brings the opportunity to maximize each employee’s potential.
My father used to say that one’s actions spoke louder than any words. The differentiated manager leads in this manner both through their example and their words. The differentiated manager doesn’t always tell their employee how to do something, they ask them how they want to do it. Strong leaders have to have the confidence to let go of full control, empower their employees and hold them accountable. The old adage of teaching someone to fish vs. giving them a fish applies here.
What’s next?
The natural next question is what should I do now? There are several levers that should be applied depending on your current state. Remember that Rome was not built in a day. Change will only come from deliberate, purposeful action through examination and evaluation of your team, training and hiring practices.
Step 1: Examine current state of leadership team
One must have an objective view of not only the output of the team but also how they are being led. Once you have an understanding of what is happening and how the team is being led, you should compare to your desired state. Typical questions would be:
►Are there any performance issues? Any personnel issues?
►Is there a high turnover rate? Is there no turnover?
►What is their management/leadership style? How much do they know about their employees?
►Are one on one sessions being held? If so, how regularly and what are the topics being covered?
►Have you participated in a 360 type review?
►How many people have been promoted within the department?
►Is there a strategic plan and is it being implemented?
Step 2: Examine current state of training and support
This seems like something we all should know but the reality is that many companies invest little or nothing into training their managers. On-the-job training with no support will beget you the typical manager as described earlier in the article. No one comes out of the gate wanting to be a poor or lackluster manager. However, if you have not defined what good looks like and have left the manager to their own devices, it is hard to blame them for being a poor manager. Invest time into ensuring that your leadership team knows what is expected of them and how you want them to get it done.
Step 3: Examine current state of hiring practices
What are the skills and attributes that you are looking for in the successful candidate? What types of questions are you asking? If you are solely focused on technical knowledge, you are missing the factors that separate the highly performing professional from the managing leader of people. You should be asking about how they have handled delivering a bad performance review or if they have ever had to discipline an employee.
True natural born leaders are written about the history books. The rest of us learn through observation, trial and error. By investing in training and strong support, you will be shaping and defining what it means to be a strong leading manager. By holding your leaders accountable and being invested in their success, you will re-define what it means to be a leader.
It all starts with you … leading.
Matt Henson has more than 18 years of progressive expertise in human resources strategy and related disciplinesMatt Henson has more than 18 years of progressive expertise in human resources strategy and related disciplines. He is responsible for leading the Human Resources Department and has direct oversight of the strategic processes and day-to-day operations for all of Angel Oak Companies, the management company for one of the nation’s top non-QM lenders, Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions. He can be reached by e-mail at

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

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