The Art of Leadership

There is well documented science behind the management of things. You input a set of “ingredients,” follow a known and specific plan and presto, you almost always get the output you were looking for. 

 

It’s not that way with leadership. Managing is about things. Leadership is about people. When you manage a budget you input the numbers with a high degree of certainty that 2 plus 2 will equal 4. (Yes, I understand this may not be true if you work in government) When you lead people you can put 2 people in the same room, give them identical directions on preforming the identical task and get 2 drastically different results. 

 

A stoplight at an intersection demonstrates the difference between managing and leading. The red and green lights mean the same thing to everyone. You stop on red and go on green. 

 

The yellow lights however can mean very different, even opposite things. 

 

To some people yellow lights mean slow down. To other people the yellow light means go real fast. But that depends too. If you’re not in a hurry it may mean slow down but if you are in a hurry it might mean go real fast. 

 

The red and green lights are pretty straightforward, kind of like managing. The yellow lights have lots of variables and even those variables can change depending on the circumstances. That’s a lot like leading. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that while people can have similarities no two people are identical. They develop their people by using those diverse skills, varied knowledge and different experiences to mold a productive team. 

 

They rally those individuals to mutually agreed upon goals and objectives. Authentic Leaders encourage robust discussions to reach high-quality and correct decisions. While working as a team they establish both group and individual accountability. They learn from their successes and learn even more from their failures. Instead of assigning blame they look for solutions. 

 

Developing people is the true art in leadership. 

 

Authentic Leaders invest a significant part of each day practicing that art. They know that their success is completely dependent on the success of their people. They understand that while quarterly profits and short-term metrics are important the development of their people is the only way to truly sustainable success. 

 

They inspire their people to do great things, often things their people never thought possible. Authentic Leaders work tirelessly to help their people stay highly motivated. They motivate them with a combination of rewards and sincere recognition. 

 

People are the priority for Authentic Leaders. They understand that all the growth and success of any organization comes from the efforts of the people who make up the organization. Their words, actions, values, vision, and ethics all reflect that understanding. 


So….do you understand?


When Leadership is Lacking

Some of you will find this post lacking. You’ll find it off the mark because you believe that management and leadership are one in the same. You are convinced they are two words that describe the identical characteristics and skills. 

 

Before I write this next sentence I should remind you that I was a long time member of the Dale Carnegie organization. I believe in and try to practice the principles set forth in the all time great book written by Mr. Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” 

 

One of the principles says to never tell a person they are wrong. That is the principle I’m going to violate in this next sentence. I’m going to violate it because this is so important that I want to say it as directly as I can. So here we go…

 

If you believe that management and leadership are identical then you are wrong. You’re about as wrong as wrong can be. 

 

Let’s be clear, all organizations need both management and leadership. The same person can and frequently does possess both skill sets. But many times, they do not. When they don’t it is usually the leadership skills that are missing. 

 

When leadership is lacking in any organization then managing fills the gap. That creates a multitude of issues within the organization because human beings resist being managed. They insist on being led.

 

We manage things, things like budgets, buildings, inventories, etc. Things don’t care if you are ethical. Things don’t know if you say one thing and do another. Things don’t know if your’re abusing them or not. Things don’t get hurt feelings when you use or trust one of them more than the other. Things don’t care if you care for them or not. Things don’t get emotional…ever. 

 

Human beings have been known to be emotional. A leader interacts with another human being’s life. When you are involved with another person’s life and have any level of influence on it then that person wants to know if you care for them. They insist that you are ethical and fair. They need to feel trusted. They need to know they matter. They need to be recognized for their efforts. 

 

Showing you care, ethical behavior, trust building integrity, showing people they matter, and providing consistent recognition are all leadership characteristics. 

 

When you apply management principles to situations where you should be showing leadership characteristics you often make the situation worse. Thats why it is so important to understand the difference between managing and leading. Too many people in leadership positions lack leadership skills. Often they are not even aware of it. They unknowingly fill that gap by trying to manage people. 

 

Research shows that between 70 and 80 percent of people in leadership positions have fewer than 5 hours of formal leadership training. Many have absolutely none. Companies that wouldn’t think of allowing their people to do “things” without training regularly put people in charge of their greatest asset (people) with no training at all. 

 

That’s crazy when you think about it. But it seems that many organizations don’t think about it. 


Leaders who lead people instead of managing them eliminate most “people issues” before they begin. Don’t make the all too common mistake of thinking that management and leadership are interchangeable words. They are vastly different skill sets and so are the results that people will provide their organization when they are led instead of managed. 

Why You’ll Never Lead a Thing

If you’re reading this then I have news for you…. you will never lead a thing. Never!

 

Leadership requires an emotional connection between a leader and a follower. “Things” have no emotions and therefore they cannot be led. Only people can be led. In fact they must be led because as emotional beings we humans refuse to be managed. We fight back against being managed even if only subconsciously.

 

If you struggle with constant “problems” with your people it’s very likely that you are trying to manage them instead of leading them.

 

Many people in leadership positions say that the difference between leading and managing is mere semantics. They believe that they are one in the same. Authentic Leaders know better.

 

Authentic Leaders know that there is a huge difference between the mindset of a leader and the mindset of a manager. A manager’s mindset is about control. It is about being reactive. It is about maintaining the status quo, and it’s about policies and procedures. 

 

An Authentic Leader’s mindset is about vision and strategy. It is about influence and inspiration. It is about appealing to the heart and raising expectations. A leadership mindset is proactive and it is people focused. 

 

Now before you go and get all cranky on me I am not saying managing isn’t important. It is every bit as vital as leading. Asking which is more important is like asking if having air or the ability to breath is more important. It doesn’t matter because without one you don’t need the other. 

 

When you understand that there are real differences between leading and managing then you have the opportunity to actually lead. Leading requires a deep understanding of people and if you don’t understand people you’ll find it impossible to lead them. 


Adopt one of Dale Carnegie’s principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People…the one that’s says to be genuinely interested in other people. The key words there is genuinely; when you are truly interested in learning about people they will show you exactly how to lead. 

The Vast Difference Between Managing and Leading

Leading and managing are seen as nearly identical, interchangeable words by most people. Even people who should and must know the huge difference often don’t. That’s why I write about the difference several times each year.

 

The difference between managing and leading is more, way, way, way, way more, than mere semantics. The difference in mindset between someone who attempts to manage people and someone who actually leads people is gigantic. 

 

The people who are managed feel that difference everyday. It feels as if they are a cog in the wheel, a bit player with little or no opportunity to grow into something more. You may be able to force the compliance of a managed human being but you will never earn their commitment. Only a leader can earn the commitment of an emotional being. 

 

Managing is mostly about stuff. We manage budgets, plans, inventories, buildings, etc. All the “stuff” has one thing in common, they are not emotional. 

 

Leadership is about people. It’s about people and only people. All people have something in common too; they are most certainly emotional. 

 

That’s what makes leading much more challenging than managing. 

 

Unless of course you’re trying to manage people. Now that’s a challenge! It’s a challenge because people basically refuse to be managed. They fight being managed every step of the way. Even if they don’t know why “it” doesn’t feel right they instinctively know being managed causes them some level of emotional distress. 

 

To the people who still believe that the difference between managing and leading is mostly semantics I would tell you that the vast majority of “people problems” or “personnel issues” that you experience on an ongoing basis are attributable to that belief.

 

If you think of the people you’re supposed to be leading as nothing more than human capital or an asset much like your printers or computers then you should expect them to fail you when you most need them….just like your printer or computer. 

 

Authentic Leaders understand the difference between what gets managed and who gets led. Authentic Servant Leaders understand better than anyone that people who are led commit to the leader and their vision. They understand that people who are led will outperform people who are managed every single day. 

 

People who are managed may, just may, help you maintain a stable organization. People who are led will commit to helping you grow your organization beyond your wildest dreams. People who are managed cause problems, people who are led solve them. 

 

People who are managed are cared about, people who are led are cared for and if you don’t understand the difference then you are likely having a hard time actually leading your people. 

 

Your computer, or anything else you might manage, will never know what you think of it and that’s okay because it doesn’t need to. The people you lead absolutely must know what you think of them and if you don’t tell them and back it up by showing them they will almost certainly believe you don’t think much of them at all. It’s an emotional response that Authentic Servant Leaders understand very well. 


If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must, absolutely must must must, understand the clear difference between what you manage and who you lead. Without that basic understanding you will be very likely attempt the impossible task of managing people. 

When Your “Leader” is Really a Manager

I’ve written from time to time about the differences between leading and managing. Basically you lead people and you manage things. Things include budgets, processes, schedules, inventories, etc. People on the other hand actually resist being managed, they truly need leadership to prosper and thrive. 

So, what do you do when the person above you is a manager who happens to occupy a leadership position? What do you do when your boss doesn’t understand the difference between leading and managing? What do you do when your boss treats you like a thing to be managed?

Well, the first thing you do is NOT add to the problem by behaving like somebody who needs to be managed rather than led. Your role is never to point out the weaknesses of the person above you in the organization. Like it or not your role is to actually try and fill whatever “gaps” your boss may have. 

I am fully aware of how difficult that can be on many levels. It’s very tough on your ego because if you do your job well your boss may receive most of the credit. The fact that they are not a leader virtually guarantees that they won’t be sharing any of the credit with you. You must fight through that and continue to perform at the highest level possible because it’s the right thing to do. If that sounds too simplistic do the right thing anyway. Doing the right thing in difficult circumstances can be one of the hardest things you will ever have do, do the right thing anyway.

Never use the fact that the person above you in your organization is a poor leader as an excuse to be a poor leader yourself. 

I normally recommend that leaders in the middle of an organization “lead up” in their organization and try to be a positive influence on those above them in the organization. In short, be a help, not a hindrance. That can be a tremendous challenge when the person in the leadership position above you is a manager and not a leader. 

Here’s why.

Good leaders either were or still are great followers. They allowed or still allow themselves to be taught, mentored, and developed. If the person in the leadership position above you has somehow gotten there without ever really leading it’s also likely that they were not very good as a follower either. That makes it very challenging for you to be a positive influence on them. They live in a misguided world were they apparently believe they already know everything there is to know. They are not very open to outside influences.

As a leader yourself you need to understand that “challenging” does not mean impossible so “lead up” anyway. Continually try to help the person above you grow as a leader because you just never know and besides, leading up is the right thing to do.

In my first job after college I was managed by someone in a leadership position. I did not respond well. I was most certainly a hindrance and if I must say so myself I was damn good at it. But I was a crummy employee who was almost completely devoid of leadership skills. If only I knew then what I know now…

In the last 30 years of my career I’ve been blessed to never experience being “led” by a manager again. I think I’m unusual in that regard. All too often I see people whose potential is limited by a manager sitting in a position of leadership. But the fact of the matter is, successful people also lead themselves exceptionally well. If your boss isn’t a leader then lead yourself. Find a mentor to help you, but always take it upon yourself to reach your potential. 

It’s YOUR success so ultimately YOU must make it happen!

 

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?

The Low Cost of High Expectations

Successful people expect more from themselves. More discipline, more effort, more planning, more teamwork, more results, more everything. They won’t settle for less. And it costs them very little.

Less successful do hope for more but most often expect to settle for less. When they expect to settle for less then less is exactly what they get. And it will cost them a ton.

As I write this I’m reminded of a story that comes from the great state of Texas. It happened years ago, when Texas was was beginning an extensive school testing program. The goal of the testing program in a nutshell was to determine if the teaching methods, and the teachers, were effective in helping the students learn. 

Towards the end of a particular school year each student was tested to determine their level of advancement from the prior school year. The results were shared with both students and their parents. 

This story involves two individual students, one a classic “A” student and the other, well the other was just kind of hanging on.  When the test results came back for these two students the educators and counselors were astonished. 

According to the test results the “A” student was way over-performing, he really had no business getting anything higher than a C. They told him that what ever he was doing he should keep doing it but they couldn’t hide their surprise at his results. The other student was found to be way under-performing, it was determined that he was capable of much higher grades if only he would make the effort. They encouraged him to try harder.

I’m sure both students and their parents were surprised by the results but in any event, the expectations for the next school year had been set. They were set by educators and counselors, both I’m sure well-meaning, whose job it was to manage students, not lead them.

Neither student disappointed, they both met the expectations set for them. The now former “A” student begin turning in “C” level work and sometimes even worse. The formerly low performing student suddenly begin doing “B” and sometimes even “A” level work. 

Expectations are an amazing motivator. 

Here’s something even more amazing… about half-way though the school year the guidance counselors discovered a mistake had been made with the test results. The test results for the previous year’s “A” student showed that he was in fact an outstanding student with the ability to quickly learn new concepts. His “A’s” should have been expected. The results also showed that the previously under-performing student was, for whatever reason, not able to internalize the curriculum and turn it into useable information. His grades accurately reflected that reality.

The only thing that had really changed for those two students were the expectations that they had for themselves. Other people “helped” them set their expectations but they had to agree to them for any real change to happen. 

The leadership lesson here is pretty straightforward. Managers may expect more from their people but leaders encourage their people expect more from themselves. 

The life lesson here is even clearer. High expectations cost virtually nothing but low expectations can cost you your success. If you want more then you need to expect more. Expect more from yourself and never allow yourself to settle for less than you’re capable of accomplishing. No one, not even you, rises to low expectations. 

Expecting less, and settling for less, results in less, of everything, and that is a fact!