Should you manage people or lead them? Years ago, while working in marketing for a retail fashion corporation I watched as the corporate staff asked store managers to conduct specific programs with all store personnel. Every employee was treated exactly the same. There were no variations in the format. Tailoring training to meet the needs of individuals wasn’t considered. So, it became what I called a project. People aren’t projects. Projects can be managed, people should be led. So, don’t manage people —lead them.

Don’t Manage People—Lead them

It’s Not Good Leadership

A few years ago my wife and I were binge-watching episodes of The Good Wife. We loved to hate it. For me, one of the shows glaring flaws was the almost total lack of leadership skills. Time after time the “managing” partners ignored the needs of their staff, pitted employees against one another, played favorites, and attempted to use fear and intimidation as motivators. Either the writing staff has a warped view of leadership, or they’ve purposely created a dysfunctional operation. I’m not certain which. Regardless, it’s a good example of what not to do.

The Difference between Managers and Leaders

  • Managers limit mentoring and training—leaders develop people
  • Managers control people—leaders share earned trust
  • Leaders focus on long range goals—managers concentrate on current projects
  • Managers prioritize urgent tasks first—leaders focus on tasks that are important to reaching goals
  • Managers tell what needs done—leaders explain why
  • Leaders inspire—managers give orders
  • Managers assign people to tasks—leaders fit people to the assignment
  • Managers are authoritarian—leaders listen and seek advice
  • Leaders motivate—managers demand
  • Managers leverage power—leaders influence

People Aren’t Projects

People aren’t projects; they’re people. Sounds silly doesn’t it? Even managers who understand their people are individuals don’t always treat them as such. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the day and lose sight of the significance of leading. Managing people as projects can achieve results but leading people goes far beyond the immediate results. Leading people develops teamwork, shared vision, and a common mission.

The majority of workers in America don’t classify themselves as engaged in the workplace, Gallup Poll: Majority of Workers not Engaged. An alienated workforce adversely affects performance and therefore production. Leading teammates through motivation and training develops teamwork. They don’t “have” to do the work—they want to do the work. Is your team engaged? Are they managed or led? Don’t manage people — lead them.

What’s the Difference Between Managing People and Leading Them?

Some will say the differences between a manager and a leader are semantic. Others will tell you why you need both, or why you need to be both. Each point of view has merit, but for my purposes, I define management as directing procedures and leadership as influencing people. You’ll often hear me say, “You manage projects and lead people.” But what does manage projects and lead people mean? What are the differences between managing people and leading them?

14 Differences Between Managing People and Leading Them

Manager Leader
Gives Orders Encourages conversation
Makes the plan Begins a conversation, helps design the plan
Commands Encourages
Sticks with what they know Lifelong learner
Jumps to urgent tasks Works toward what’s important
Uses Fear to motivate Develops trust
Expects people to do their job Offers training, gives direction
Orders others what to do and how to do it Explains why
Has direct reports Creates followers
Assigns tasks to people Fits people to the task
Creates silos Builds teams
Focuses on what went wrong Gives recognition for what went right
Finds problems Sees opportunities
Points fingers when things don’t go right Sees failure as a chance to learn

Are You a Manager, Leader, or Both?  

I encourage you to check the dictionary definitions of manager and leader. They overlap, and at least in my mind, there isn’t a clear delineation between the two. So, let’s stay with, managers manage procedures and leaders lead people. Which are you with your teammates? It’s not only okay to manage projects, somebody needs to. What’s not okay is to manage people like they were a project.

Do You Want to Manage People or Lead Them?

When I was a younger manager, I didn’t understand leadership. My goal was to be a better manager. As long as my mindset was on improving my procedures, not in changing my viewpoint, I didn’t progress. However, after many failures, I realized that it was better to persuade people than command them. Rather than telling people to follow my plan and execute my orders, bringing the team together to brainstorm brought buy in. It was their plan. I learned that fear might produce short-term results but was destructive in the long run, and that recognition and encouragement built teams.

Review the list. What stands out in your mind? Where could you improve? Could you and should you progress from being a manager to a leader?

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out. It might help you stop putting off what you want to do.

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash