Małgorzata Kwiatkowska: During consultations for managerial staff under the EAP Program, the question “How to change from a manager into a leader?” pops up regularly. What is behind it and why is this change desirable?
Joanna Krzyżanowska: Indeed, at the successive career levels leadership qualities begin to play an increasingly important role, and if someone has not developed them, such shortage can limit their promotion options and also become a source of certain dissatisfaction. Both managers and leaders are important to companies, and one cannot state that leadership is “better” than management – rather, the former is positioned somewhat ahead of the latter as it is the leader who sets the direction that is subsequently implemented. Many people who have proven themselves in achieving the goals set for them want to have their share in identifying those goals. It is a natural course of development.
MK: How to distinguish between both roles? Let us start with the characteristics of a manager.
JK: It is best to begin with the classic definition, although life of course verifies and complicates it. According to that definition, a manager is responsible for planning, organising and controlling the organisation’s activities while making optimal use of its available resources. It is also a person responsible for the allocation of competent people and for their actions within the process that takes place in this organisation.
MK: And a leader…
JK: A leader puts more emphasis on other issues. They inspire, motivate to action, evoke passion and energy. They are often visionaries and strategists, which is why they focus less on processes and more on people, their impact on organisational culture, and above all on their development – by giving them the right space. Being a leader is not a formal function but a set of competences that no one assigns in the form of a nomination for a position. This is the ability to unite people around a common goal and create a vision of the team’s future within which each of its members wants to fulfil themselves.
MK: And how much truth is there in the statement that a manager tells people what to do and holds them accountable, and a leader takes responsibility for them, praises them for their successes and defends them in case of failure?
JK: This is too much of a simplification. It probably results from confusing two categories – on the one hand, commonly understood characteristics of a leader and manager, and on the other hand, management styles. In fact, a leader creates a vision of the future, and a manager solves problems and faces challenges in the managed area. A leader initiates change and innovation, and the manager manages and implements it, also administering the processes that make this change a reality. In the second case, a leader inspires as an example while a manager focuses rather on dividing the goals received from other levels of the organisation and motivates to achieve them. A leader authorises the managers to act, and a manager plans and delegates tasks.
MK: Where, then, runs the line between a manager and a leader?
JK: The main difference is in the fact that the manager uses formal structures and creates order in the organisation, and the leader resorts to the skill of informal influence and inspiring changes. Thus, leaders use their social competences and focus on employees’ talents, which are crucial for the organisation, while managers focus more on tasks – what they should do, what resources they should have to make everything they manage function properly. But a particularly effective leader will be someone who can do both. Therefore, it is good to understand the differences between the roles but not to separate them in the organisation – instead, it is advisable to develop leadership qualities in managers and managerial competences in leaders.
MK: And what about risk? Who takes it? A leader or a manager?
JK: Although in theory a manager should rather eliminate risk and a leader should take it, in practice it is difficult to say that these two roles are differentiated by their approach to risk. Both a leader and a manager face risk within their assigned scope of tasks. There are situations when managers manage key processes in the organisation and their decisions affect the existence or non-existence of this organisation.
MK: Does a leader always have to become an authority?
JK: I do not think so. But being one can help them lead effectively. After all, authority is a position in which a leader is recognised as an expert, a guru, someone truly accomplished in their field, whose opinions are respected by others. Thanks to this, a leader can have a greater impact on the organisation. And if we say that they should infuse others with their passion for what a given company does, being an authority helps them achieve this goal.
MK: Managing people is undoubtedly one of the most difficult roles in any organisation. There are about thirty different types of leadership styles. Do some have more advantages and others more disadvantages?
JK: One thing is certain – there is no one perfect management style. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages, some may be more optimal in a specific organisation, in a specific situation or scale of operation than others. Also, style adequacy is influenced by the individual predispositions of a given person – how they function, their temperament, personality, experience and competence. To sum up, the management style is the result of organisational conditions and our personal predispositions as well as the personal resources we have developed as a manager or leader during our professional growth.
MK: In what direction are management theories developing? What is particularly relevant today?
JK: Many classic management thinkers and practitioners defined this topic. Jack Welch believed that it is necessary to set goals adequately, to inspire quick, accurate decisions, but also to provide, for example, resources. John Maxwell, in turn, added that it is also necessary to listen to employees, while Stephen Covey pointed out that relations with employees should be based on trust and respect. Additionally, Daniel Goleman described 6 styles based on emotional leadership that influence how a team feel and behave. He argued that you need to use emotional intelligence and manage the organisation in such a way that people use their personal predispositions and do what is consistent with those predispositions. The above considerations show the evolution of the management process through understanding the emotions of employees. They show that people are most effectively guided by those who actually lead them. What does it involve? Responsibility for others, internal motivation to inspire others to achieve common goals and, above all, full responsibility for all effects of actions – both positive and negative.
MK: And which management styles turn out to be the most effective?
JK: If we look at the management styles in the ten largest companies in the world, they differ depending on the industry, culture or organisational strategy. Sometimes an organisation features the style that its very charismatic leader prefers, especially when it grew out of a startup. But many companies that reach the top take an integrated and balanced approach, that is, they combine elements of various management styles. In some cases, you can notice, for instance, the characteristic components of the transformational style. These are the companies that focus on building relationships and motivating employees to reorganise. They are aware that in order to develop they must periodically undergo radical changes. On the other hand, when an organisation focuses on performing tasks that require a high degree of specialisation, while ensuring high quality of products, the transactional style prevails. Of course, there are also, unfortunately, organisations managed in an authoritarian manner that focus primarily on control, where decisions are made by a very small group at the management level. And these are not isolated cases at all – often this style accompanies a leader who is very media-oriented, sure of how the company should operate. And it does not mean that such an approach will not work.
MK: Is there any other management model that stands out on the market today?
JK: The concept of the turquoise organisation is very interesting. Its author, Frederic Laloux, in his book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, focused on the fact that organisations based on values and relationships are more effective and satisfying for employees than traditional management models based on hierarchy and control. In short, in the turquoise model employees have a large choice of what exactly they want to do, and management is based on cooperation and trust. As a mature person, an employee engages in the tasks entrusted to them with full responsibility and is primarily inspired by the mission and values professed by the organisation. Previously, this concept was often ridiculed by managers as being too idealistic. Currently, there are no “turquoise” companies among the world leaders. However, various elements of this concept are implemented in many organisations at different levels.
MK: For example?
JK: Taking care of the employee’s mental health and well-being. This is an element that is becoming an integral part of the organisation, an important premise for the quality of company management. In many companies an increasingly important role plays the employer’s trust in employees who choose the areas they feel best at. And we all know that what we do is crucial for our mental condition. Therefore, many companies implement EAP programs and all forms of support for both professional and mental development, so that employees can live better and feel comfortable in their workplace – and, consequently, improve their competences and increase their efficiency in performing their duties.
MK: What should a good leader look like? The Leader Versatility Index model by Robert Kaiser and Bob Kaplan indicates four areas of leadership: strategic, enabling, operational and forceful. According to this model, a leader cannot be one-dimensional.
JK: This model was created as a tool for assessing competencies and developing leadership skills. It is based on the assumption that leadership is a dynamic, fluid process and requires great flexibility and adaptability. It measures the level of this versatility by examining the features that were previously not considered in any theory of management – empathy, mindset, perseverance, determination or leadership attitude. As a result, it determines where a leader of a given organisation is positioned, what spectrum of personal competences they possess at a given moment. This, in turn, is the basis for their self-development as they can clearly see both their strengths and also gaps in knowledge or skills.
MK: Who will do best at the top of the organisation? The leader alone? Or maybe a leader who needs a committed manager?
JK: Most often, a company is led by a leader who needs not only one but a whole team of good managers. But if a leader is only a visionary leader, then there is also a limitation as they do not know how to translate their vision into action. They are completely dependent on managers, which may work, but there is a risk that a leader will not see in time that the vision is not properly implemented. For sure, the person heading the company cannot be a micro-manager but must be able to assess whether things are progressing in the desired direction.
MK: So, actually, in order to manage an organisation well, it is best to be a good leader and manager at the same time?
JK: A good leader must have managerial skills, and a good manager should have leadership qualities that are still being developed. In fact, many people in organisations perform both functions. The two roles are different, and to be successful, you need to both lead your organisation and your team effectively.
MK: To focus on respect for others, inspire them, awaken a sense of common purpose, but also be able to manage a team. And to promote self-development – which is often a difficult process.
JK: The basis for development is to recognise one’s areas of incompetence and be able to describe and verbalise them; not to shy away but to think what to do about them. It is also important not to listen only to those who pour honey in our ears, in line with our image of ourselves, but to be able to face the opinion of people who criticise us – and draw conclusions. It seems to me that today it is also important for an organisation itself to encourage a leader to get acquainted with the evaluation delivered by team members and to draw conclusions. This is the first step for leaders: to review themselves and try to change. It is also important for the company to have processes that force this reflection.
MK: A good leader and manager in one person can help an organisation achieve its goals and wrestle with the competition. And each of us has a chance to change and develop. ICAS Poland can help with this. We would like to remind you that the EAP program also includes support in the field of work – business psychology, coaching and mentoring.