Management THEN Leadership

by | May 10, 2022 | Leadership Matters

From even a cursory glance at my website and social posts, you could gather that I “do” leadership.  However, the thing that is really important to me is that clients master management THEN leadership.  This applies to the Future Leaders that I support with networking events.  This also applies to seasoned senior leaders and even Board members, who never quite got taught the management bit.

Management is not sexy.  It is often seen as all spreadsheets, tick-boxes and highlight reports like the one in the cover image.  I am old enough to remember when Management By Objective came in as a business efficiency technique (note: efficiency NOT effectiveness – that’s another blog but Covey is entertaining on the subject). It was a measurement-of-everything nightmare!

And that’s the point.  It was efficiency.  We all measured what we thought was important and that way the important stuff got done, hence “what’s measured gets done” and other paraphrases of Peter Drucker.  Unfortunately, that was all wrong.  Businesspeople failed to learn the first key lesson – knowing WHAT to measure is relative to the situation, and UNDERSTANDING the data is fundamental to being able to lead.

Knowing what to do with the data

Many managers I know, honestly live in fear of the data experts in their organisations.  They are afraid of being bamboozled, being shown up for not having a detailed grasp of the minutiae, of not having done their homework.  For some, this school analogy is powerful.  It gives rise to a difficult Parent/Child relationship (in Transactional Analysis terms – another blog too but the basics are here) resulting in workplace tensions.  There’s a simple solution to this: talk!  On the one hand, managers need to be clear and probably quite specific about the data that they want.  On the other, the data experts need to focus their reports on the potential impact or outcome that the data suggests will result.

OK so this is a caricature of “managers” as all Big Picture and results-focused and “data experts” being all detail.  Nevertheless, fear of being caught out is very real for many clients of mine.  And that is based on an inescapable truth: they may be seeking to lead without first being able to manage.

You can only lead if people are willing to be led by you.  Therefore, the “led” need to be confident you know what you’re up to.  It’s a short-odds bet that your team’s confidence in you will grow if you are clearly across your brief.

Knowing your Brief

What does this mean in day-to-day practical terms?  Simply put, you know who’s doing what, why, for how much and to what end.  You don’t need to know everyone’s blood group (although having a handy list of folks’ birthdays is never a bad thing if you remember them and wish them well on their big day).  Just know what you need to know and know it enough to discuss it.

What you do need to know is what your people are doing.  You also need to know why they’re doing it (and make sure they know too).  Furthermore, you need to know how well they do what they’re doing and, where possible, acknowledge a job well done.  It really IS that simple.

Being an effective manager means you know what you need to know, to ensure that your team – or even whole organisation – succeeds and thrives.  And THAT is why I argue for management THEN leadership.

Management, then Leadership – maybe

I have argued briefly here that I believe every leader should be an effective manager and that “management” is a crucial skill.  To rephrase, I believe that good management is vital to any successful organisation and that people denigrate “management” at their peril.  No organisation can succeed without effective management.  No organisation can succeed without effective leadership either.  The two cannot be mutually exclusive.  Indeed, I would argue that both are crucial keys to success.

Any effective leader will honour the debt they owe to the managers in their organisation.  The people who keep the show on the road.  I would argue that any effective leader understands this debt because they have worked that role in the past, in some way.

Let’s be clear, however.  I am not saying that leaders can only be leaders when they have somehow “served their time”.  I am simply saying that effective leaders value management and the best leaders are also competent managers, so they understand the data when they need to.  Effective leaders are the ones that know what to do in response to information.  They are the ones that horizon-scan.  Additionally, they use information from their organisation (and beyond, if they are wise) to sense-check new ideas, craft ambitious new plans and understand their organisation’s place in the world.

Try doing any of this without understanding the key parts of the data and what that means.  Not only would you make yourself a hostage to others’ interpretation (we’re back to being shown up again), but you would also lack a decent grasp of what’s happening across your organisation.

This is why I am so committed to empowering and supporting effective managers at all levels in the organisations I support.  I work with leaders and their teams to create clarity, focus and a drive for success.  I also enable them to feel comfortable valuing their managers.

If my arguments have struck a chord, or perhaps even irritated, please let me know.  You can leave a comment or contact me.  Let’s have a conversation and see how I can help.