10 Ways to Know You’re Managing More Than Leading

I’ve written a fair amount about management versus leadership. I have a chapter about the subject in my book The Mythical Leader. I won’t make you go read the book to know I believe both are valuable to any organization. We need good leadership and good management. But this is a leadership blog. And if you want to be a leader, you can’t focus more on managing the organization than you do on leading the organization forward.

How do you know when you are?

I have learned by experience some ways to tell when my leadership has turned to management – and when it is happening in our organization.

10 ways to know you’re managing more than leading:

You no longer take risks.

Management is about guiding healthy systems. Again, we need good management to support leadership. Leadership, however, is about moving things forward into unknown territory. That always involves a risk at some level.

Failure has been virtually eliminated by rules and procedures.

In a perfectly managed structure you can keep most mistakes from happening. Whenever a mistake happens, you simply create a new rule or tweak the systems to keep it from happening again. Leadership always stretches systems. You will make many mistakes along the way. It’s part of leading.

You have a system already in place for everything you are going to do.

If everything in the organization is clearly defined then you don’t need leadership. Management will work fine for this.

You no longer need or seek outside advice.

This is not always a fool-proof determinant. You may have enough leadership of new growth within your own organization. But often it means you simply aren’t  looking for anything that is going to stretch what you are currently doing. In my experience, that is often found outside those who can only see what they see in their current context.

Things are comfortable.

There is often miscommunication and the awkwardness of change occurring in leadership. Which makes leadership frustrating, messy, and uncomfortable

Change is always initially resisted – even by those in leadership.

In a management culture change is rarer. But in a leadership culture, there is a continual stream of change. You can almost guess the difference as soon as you suggest a way of doing something that’s different from how you are doing things now.

The way you do things is valued more than what you are trying to do.

I have a friend who worked for a very management cultured organization. He exceeded every expectation set for him – by far. All the goals set for him were achieved. But he didn’t follow the processes to get there. He hadn’t done anything immoral, illegal, or even unethical. He simply didn’t follow all the rules. They let him go.

In a culture dominated by management the “process” is valued even more than the future reality of an unrealized vision.

Resources are no longer being stretched.

I talked with a pastor recently whose church has taken on 38 partners during COVID. And they aren’t a huge church. They simply saw needs and felt led of God to try and meet them. But talking about stretching an organization. Leadership cultures stretch the organization beyond its current capacities.

You have no horses that need to be reined in.

This phrase was said to me by a pastor friend recently in regards to a new staff person on his team. He’s hit the ground running faster than current structures will allow. But my friend likes it that way. In a leadership culture, you know you can stretch the structure as needed in time. But you want horses that are raring to gallop without the control of a bit in the mouth.

You rebel against a post like this.

There are those more wired for management and those more wired for leadership. I’ve worked with both, and do I need to say again I think we need both? But good leadership will frustrate good management in some form, simply for the reasons previously stated. In a strictly management culture talk about “stretching” and “running” and “changing” is often faced with hearty resistance.

And if you think you are in a management culture, just float this post around the office and see how it is received.

I’m curious, which of these are currently true of your organization? In your assessment, are you more of a leadership culture in need of good management? Or, are you in a managed culture that often rebels against leadership?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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