A manager by any other name…

I came across yet another article this morning arguing the difference between management and leadership.  This one was called Ten Signs your Boss is a Manager — but not a Leader. It suggests that managers watch people to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and continues:

‘The concept of traditional supervision is rooted in the fear that working people will misbehave or make mistakes if someone isn’t watching them to make sure they don’t.’

Hang on a minute. Weren’t we talking about management? Where did supervision suddenly pop up from? Are we to assume that a manager is the same as a supervisor, or is this an extra level of differentiation we need to be aware of?

It’s amazing (and distinctly worrying) how much time is given over to arguing about labels.  As well as the broad concept of leaders and managers, some organisations clearly distinguish between First Line Managers, Middle Managers and Senior Managers. Others talk about Supervisors and Team Leaders – and I thought Leadership was supposed to be high-end, senior stuff, not the first step on the rung of the having-responsibility-for-others ladder.

I’ve known Senior Management Teams rebrand themselves into Executive Teams, and yet their behaviour hasn’t changed one iota; development programmes covering fairly routine people management skills being labelled Leadership Development, presumably to give them added importance; while Executive Coaching sounds far sexier and costs a damned sight more than Management Coaching, but often looks exactly the same in practice.

A lot of this boils down to an underlying message that leadership is good and management is bad. Effective managers however almost always demonstrate leadership; while being a leader doesn’t absolve you from being an effective manager as well. The article mentioned above includes the suggestion that ‘a leader faces forward and marches confidently, assuming their troops will follow them because they trust their troops and themselves’. To extend the slightly disconcerting military metaphor, such a leader is likely to find themselves standing on their own in the middle of the battlefield unless they’ve put in some of the basic groundwork of good management first.

In my very first supervisory job, I was explicitly told by my line manager not to talk to the ‘operatives’ (I struggled for a moment there to remember the correct word – my ‘team’ or ‘people’ would definitely not have been terms my manager would have recognised or accepted). Instead I was supposed to keep them busy at all times, even if that meant creating pointless work for them to do. In such a sterile environment, the opportunity to demonstrate leadership is perhaps limited. Looking back however, I realise with some pride that I was demonstrating a form of leadership when I ignored my manager and took every opportunity I could to find out more about the individuals for whom I was responsible, so that I had a better idea of how to motivate them.

But for me, this is just good management. It involves using judgement about what’s the best course of action, even if it means breaking the rules.

So perhaps, the author of the article that sparked of these thoughts was right in saying that traditional management/supervision is based on fear of people misbehaving. I’d suggest however that if that fear exists, it probably permeates the whole organisation, with managers themselves being afraid of using their judgement and being punished if they get something wrong.

And that’s a failure in leadership (or is it management) from the very top.