What's a Manager?


What's a Manager?A manager occupies a position of authority over people and other resources in all sizes of organizations. We can define management without reference to managers, however. It is the process of getting things done in a way that makes best use of all resources. 

Everyone manages in the sense of striving to get the most out of his or her time and other resources. We manage our priorities, careers and finances, among other things. By defining management independent of the role of manager, we can say that it does not imply any particular style of management. Thus, managers aren't controlling or punitive by definition.

What Managers Do

By definition managers aim to achieve certain goals in a way that adds most value and gets the most out of all available resources. Management is like investment in its aim to get the best return. Managers have a wider range of resources to invest, however. And they intervene to help make their resources effective. They are not passive like financial investors.

Like good investors, managers must monitor their goals and investments regularly to make sure that they are getting the best return. This can make them seem controlling to the people they manage, but this is a question of personal style. Management is not controlling by definition, not in the  negative sense of stifling initiative and micro-managing people anyway.

Effective managers realize that people need to be empowered, valued and engaged in order to be motivated and committed to doing a good job. Highly skilled managers know how to get the balance right between measuring what people do and empowering them. As much as possible, people need to be allowed to manage themselves, to be taught what key performance indicators to monitor and to be allowed to improve their own performance without being told or watched over.

Key Management Skills

Skilled managers have a good balance of task competencies and people skills. On the task side, it is important to be goal-oriented, to be sufficiently organized and self-directed to set realistic targets and to organize all the necessary resources to achieve those targets. Managers need to be sound decision makers, customer focused, able to cope with complexity resilient in the face of setbacks and have sufficient energy to tackle a huge workload.

To manage people effectively, it is essential to be sensitive to their needs yet firm enough to turn unacceptable performance around promptly. They need to be good at building and motivating a team and skilled at coaching employees.

Effective managers ask employees what they think to draw solutions to problems out of them. This is a great way to engage employees. Less effective managers do all their own thinking and problem solving, just using employees to implement their decisions.

Manager or Leader?

Some people dismiss management as an obsolete concept. For them, there are no good managers. Anyone in charge of others who is good with people must be a leader in their view. That is not the view taken here.

As defined here, a manager can be highly empowering, supportive and nurturing. It is a question of style, not definition. Managers focus on achieving goals. Leadership deals with promoting change. Effective managers may or may not need to show much leadership. They may lead by example simply by working hard and taking responsibility, however. But they may not actively promote change. Similarly, a lot of front-line employees can show leadership by, for instance, promoting a better product or work process without managing anyone. Thus it is possible to be a manager or a leader or both.

Why Separate Leadership and Management?

Because all organizations have two fundamentally different tasks:

  • to execute today's business as efficiently as possible
  • to devise new directions for future success - innovation.

This has become increasingly obvious as more and more emphasis is placed on innovation as a major source of competitive advantage. It makes sense, therefore, to align the managerial function with executing today's business and leadership with generating new directions. Clearly, management is a set of responsibilities because you have to be organized and systematic to deliver agreed outcomes and other people expect this of you.

Conversely, leadership is an episodic act like creativity that some people will exhibit some times and not other times - it is not a position of responsibility.

Getting clear about this distinction is important for strategic reasons - it helps us to focus our energies where we can gain the greatest potential payback. Executives who think they are leading when they are only managing are blocking the leadership of others and hence potentially limiting the innovation their organizations need to survive. They also run the risk of creating excessive dependency on themselves among others.

When leadership and management are clearly differentiated, you must identify areas for change and have the courage to champion them to show leadership. No longer can you call yourself a leader simply because you are an good manager.

At the same time, effective, profitable execution is just as important for busines success as generating the future. It is time to raise the profile of managers and stop the bandwagon which is compelling everyone to call themselves leaders, as if managers are somehow lower class citizens or nonfunctional elements.

Hence it is vital to differentiate between leadership and management - one serves the function of finding a new direction, the other the function of getting us there efficiently. While one person can, in principle, perform both functions, only one person would normally be the manager of a group. Conversely, leadership can be shown by all and it can shift from one person to another rapidly in any given context.

See also: What's a manager? and What is Management?

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