Are managers going the way of the dinosaur?

traditional vs contemporary

After my last article about great managers leading their teams to success, a very accomplished colleague asked me an intriguing question:  Should managers always be leading?

Annika is on to something; today’s great manager has come a long way from what Richard Arkwright, the father of the modern industrial revolution, would have valued.  Arkwright was known for being aggressive and self-sufficient. His focus was on highly-disciplined working arrangements and ensuring operational task efficiency.  Perhaps he is also the father of the toxic workplace?

We lead/manage complex human beings to accomplish goals.  In truth, managing and leading are complementary skill sets, and we need to know when to apply them for best results.  Through years designing manager and leadership development programs and training, I’ve noticed that great managers do a few things quite differently from average managers.

It’s not that great managers don’t manage, they do.  Managers are responsible for getting work done through others. Routine and operational work doesn’t go away, and new initiatives will emerge to drive organizational improvements (with great managers who start by creating a shared vision of success with their team!). Great managers recognize that anyone who leads humans has a huge responsibility. Not just to accomplish tasks and goals, but to ensure everyone’s overall wellbeing so that as individuals and as a team, they can stretch further and achieve greater outcomes.

It boils down to 3 simple tips to transform yourself into a better leader/manager:

  1. Self-awareness:  You need to know what your style is, how you work best, and what drives you crazy when working with others.
  2. Valuing your staff as individuals: get to know them as people, know their style, what motivates them, and what environment helps them to be most successful.
  3. Identifying cues:  The modern workplace doesn’t respond well to command and control, so you’ll need to be able to shift between management and leadership approaches fluidly to be able to “read the room”; basically to connect to each person individually and to the team as a whole and adjust your style based on cues as to what is needed in that moment. 

There’s no magic formula to identify cues as to when to shift between managing and leading.  The most common and devastating issues tend to emerge when the team is faced with something new – new project, new incident or challenge.  In these situations, great managers tend to the team’s safety first, so that people can transition out of any initial “flight or fight” response and can feel confident in how to move forward.  That means taking the time to come back to that initial “vision of success” for the team and potentially revisit it to see if it needs to be updated.  Doing so helps people adapt to change and feel confident that they know what is expected from them.  Knowing the big picture and how you fit in is an essential element to achieving individual wellbeing and team success.

If managers want to avoid extinction (and I certainly hope that’s true!) we will do so when we evolve to a new and improved role with more humanity.