The Trouble with Managing People

I write about this topic from time-to-time but it never gets old. People still make this leadership mistake with great regularity.

 

The mistake they make is trying to use their leadership position to manage people. Let me say this yet again: managing people is impossible. People refuse to be managed, they want to be led. 

 

For those of you who refuse to acknowledge the difference between managing and leading I say this: you are doomed to a life of limited leadership. Worse, you have sentenced the people you are supposed to be leading to a life of limited potential.

 

It really is that big of a deal that you understand the very real difference between managing and leading.

 

You manage things. Things like a budget, a building, and a process. You manage things that don’t think, don’t have feelings, don’t have goals and objectives, and don’t care one iota what you think of them. 

 

But people do think, they do have feelings, they (hopefully) have goals and objectives. And they care what you as their leader think of them. That’s why they must be led, not managed.

 

People who feel managed are most always under-performers. Even if they are doing well they would do better if they were led instead of managed. People who feel managed are frequently said to be “problem people” in their workplace. The truth is that they are unlikely to be the actual problem. It’s far more likely that the problem is the person who is supposed to be leading them but is managing them instead. 

 

There are people who would tell you that the difference between managing and leading is pure semantics. But they would be mistaken. The differences are substantial and one of the biggest ones is mindset. Managers can afford to be dispassionate, in fact it’s a strength for managers. Leaders must be passionate. They have to truly care about the people they lead. They have to be as motivated to help their people succeed as they are to succeed themselves. 

 

A management mindset sees people as an asset or as capital to be used. Managers think in terms of “spending time on” their people when their people need help. A leadership mindset sees people as a human being to be nurtured and developed. Leaders think of “investing time with” their people when their people need help. 

 

The difference in outcomes produced by those two mindsets is like night and day. 

 

I know you’re not going to like this but if you have “problem people” in your organization then you need to make certain that you are not the root of the problem. If you’re trying to manage your people then the “problem” with your people is most likely you.


Leaders lead people and managers manage stuff. The best leaders know how…and when, to manage and the best managers know how…and when, to lead. There’s no crime in not being able to do both, you just have to acknowledge it and not try to manage people who need to be led.

 

 

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