How to Lead Versus Manage, to Improve Your Team's Success
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
It takes great leaders and talent to grow a successful company. One of the best descriptions of a leader I’ve heard is that leaders focus on vision and strategy, guiding and removing obstacles for their teams -- something like a coach in sports.
Managers typically focus more on the execution piece, working in the business. By contrast, real leadership means providing a compelling vision and clear direction. Successful leaders clarify priorities and expectations, defining employee roles and ensuring that the processes and capacity required for them to execute are in place.
The stance from which you lead makes a big difference in your employees' job satisfaction. To engage your workers today, focus more on leading instead of managing. I’ve found that most employees are looking for coaches who can help them develop and make the most of their strengths, to add value for the company. This is especially true when it comes to millennials, the largest generation in the workforce.
Leading a productive team entails letting go of daily operations to focus on setting a clear strategy and vision -- the “why” and “what” -- and getting comfortable leaving your team to manage the “how.” This can be a serious challenge if you’re accustomed to spending most of your time triaging problems, putting out fires and managing from a reactive standpoint.
Managers execute -- leaders lead.
As the CEO of a digital marketing agency, I used to review every monthly report for quality before it went out to our clients, which involved far too much “managing” time.
Realizing it would not scale, I sat down one day and wrote a playbook on how to create these reports, trained the team and then let them loose. I still ask to be CC’d on them, but now I can focus on coaching people on opportunities to improve, and they know they won’t get my feedback before they send. This approach creates more accountability for others and less doing on my part.
When I empowered the team to write those monthly reports, everyone saw better outcomes. Here are three more ways you can shift from day-to-day management to leadership.
. Establish core values -- and follow them. While 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies talk about their core values publicly, according to one study, theirs are often hollow words that aren’t operationalized in any way. The magic of core values is that, when they are ingrained into employees’ daily work lives, they drive more autonomous decision-making.
For example, one of our core values is “embrace relationships,” which empowers our managers to make financial decisions aligned with long-term outcomes, not short-term maximization of profits. Someone might say to me, “I made this concession for one of our partners because it was the right thing to do,” rather than feel the need to ask for permission.
To create the right conditions for success, employees need to understand where the business is going and how they should behave, to lead by example. Your core values inform your company culture; and including the team in creating those values can help workers feel more connected and empowered.
2. Don’t neglect your own professional development. Too often, leaders assume responsibility for everyone on their teams but themselves. Although we all need to manage at times, leaders are usually proactive; managers are reactive. If you want to be a great leader, set aside time for your own professional development.
Join local and national professional organizations, such as Entrepreneurs’ Organization -- a great resource for networking and leadership training -- or attend conferences such as GrowCo to hear from other leaders who have found success.
Look for groups that will challenge and support you in your professional development, beyond networking and handing out business cards. Seek out a successful coach or mentor and create a formal board of advisors. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks, so lean on the support and experience of others to guide you, and learn from those who have done what you aim to do.
And don’t forget to transfer this focus on development to your team. GitHub, for example, allows each of its employees to attend one work-related conference a year and covers the travel costs if a teammate is invited to speak.
3. Spread the love, or risk burnout. If you try to do it all yourself, you will inevitably see diminishing returns on the time you invest. Successful leaders spend the majority of their time on tasks that utilize their own unique skills and abilities and leave the rest to others who are more competent in those areas.
Try this exercise to figure out how to make that happen:
• Determine the maximum number of hours per week you can work and still stay balanced.
• Calculate (honestly) how much time it takes to do all your necessary tasks well. If the answer is more than 100 percent of your max hours, delegate.
• List every single thing you do in a day.
• Create two columns to sort that list: In column 1, put every task you love to do and are great at; column 2 is for everything else.
• Now, stop doing or delegate everything in column 2 that puts you over capacity.
The great thing is, you’ll often discover that the duties you aren’t good at (or don’t enjoy) align with the unique capabilities and favorite tasks of someone else on your team.
Although it might seem impossible to let go of the daily tasks of managing the business, getting out of that mindset and focusing on how to be an inspirational leader is the best investment you can make -- in both your quality of life and the ultimate success of your business.