Managing People

The first thing to keep in mind when managing people is that if you’re doing it then you’re doing it wrong. You’re doing it wrong because you shouldn’t be doing it at all. People will not and can not be managed. 

You manage stuff, stuff without feelings, stuff without opinions, stuff that does not have the ability to think for itself, stuff that doesn’t have emotions. People ain’t stuff! 

With all due respect to some very smart people who say the difference between managing and leading is just semantics I’m sorry to tell them that they are seriously seriously wrong. It’s not a difference of opinion, it’s not just “how you look at it,” and it’s most certainly not merely semantics. The difference between managing and leading is as great as the difference between night and day.

Some people, very very few but some, have the aptitude to both manage and lead. Many people are placed in positions where both skill sets are required and those people struggle mightily. They struggle because the mindset of a manager is so vastly different than the mindset of a leader. 

Managers have subordinates while leaders have followers. Managers seek to control while leaders seek to influence. Managers work with solid data while leaders revel in the abstract. 

Managers use their tenacity to get the job done while leaders are using their imaginations to determine what the job should be. Managers are required to focus on today while leaders are looking ahead to tomorrow and beyond. 

A manager’s thinking typically focuses on how to get the most out of the workers they have. A leader’s thinking is typically focused on how to help their people grow, both professionally and personally. 

A manager “spends time on employees” to ensure requirements are met. A leader “invests time with people” to ensure that their people have the opportunity to excel. 

I throughly dislike the term “human capital” that is so often used by Human Resource professionals. There is nothing actually wrong with the words, it is the mindset that goes with them. The mindset is one of managing people and managing people is truly impossible. The mindset of managing people is actually the cause of most of an organization’s “people problems.”

Those two words should never be next to one another. We manage capital and we lead people. When they two words are used together the capital word “wins” and the people word is either minimized or forgotten altogether. That’s the genesis of many many personnel issues.

For those of you who still think managing and leading are one and the same I’d like you give a motivational talk to your inventory or budget right now and see how they respond. 

If that sounds crazy to you then you get my point…it really is crazy to talk to stuff but it’s no more crazy than trying to manage human beings. You can’t lead things and you can’t manage people because leading and managing are not interchangeable.

Authentic Leaders understand the difference between managing and leading and never try to substitute one for the other. Do you?

24 thoughts on “Managing People

  1. Gerald says:

    Misunderstanding this point is the #1 problem I see in my business today. Too many good managers are asked to lead people, thereby frustrating everyone involved. Managers do all the things rights (spreadsheets, inventory, reports, etc), but a Leader does all the right things for their people. The two are not the same.

    • I agree 100%! When someone attempts to manage people both the people and the manager are frustrated. The growth of the people and the organization are both stunted and its unlikely either will achieve their full potential.

      I don’t understand why so many people have such a difficult time grasping this concept but it has been an eternal problem in many, many organizations.

      Thanks for your spot on comment!

  2. Steve, Leaders coach their followers to see the things that their followers couldnt see before.

    Managers on the other hand like to focus on the activity of their subordinate just to get thi gs done for themselves.

  3. Srinibas Patnaik says:

    Truly said..some of the softer and powerful aspect that we missed out when we manage people as a capital or as resource are…. emotion, emathy ,caring etc …perhaps the most powerful influences having the biggest impact on an outcome and behaviour..

    Some how over the years we lost the humane aspect with technogical development which taken precedents over the humane side…

    I really appreciate and thanks for coming.up with such an well articulated and well written piece..

    With best wishes,

    Srinibas Patnaik
    AVP-HR, Ion Exchange India Ltd.
    Mumbai , India

    • Thank you for the kind word and thoughtful comment. I think you’re absolutely right, when we manage human beings we tend to lose the ability to care about them.

      I’m concerned about a budget or inventory but I don’t really care. People must be cared for. Caring for others is vital if you’re going to lead them. You can care for people without leading them but you can’t lead them without caring for them.

  4. Cass says:

    Hi! I do make a conscious effort on a daily basis to both manage my teams tasks at hand – workflow managment – as well as develop each (there’s 7) so that they can trailblaze a path for themselves that is fulfilliing, beyond their time with me. I love it! I’d like to read more on how to do both very well. I enjoy being in the trenches and having big picture visions that motivate others.

  5. Excellent article. Thank you Steve for sharing your knowledge. Leadership and Management are definitely 2 distinct skill sets, which new managers find out the hard way. Many people get set up for Leadership failure, because they get promoted solely for being good at their skill craft. Most are not prepared with appropriate training to manage or lead people.

    • Absolutely true Carl, I’ll bet I’ve seen literally hundreds of great sales people promoted to sales manager only to fail terribly. They just are different skill sets.

      We need both managers and leaders and while some can do both its a pretty uncommon combination.

  6. T. S. K. Raman says:

    Steve,
    Good article.
    We ought manage ourselves, and when we do, it’s something that others around you want to follow.
    You emerge as a ‘leader,’ which others want to follow. Don’t coach them to be just managers, but leaders too.

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