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Communicating with leaders vs managers

Throughout my business career and as a facilitator of learning leadership skills, I have witnessed many conversations where people have difficulty understanding what the other person is saying. This has led to misunderstandings and frustration on both sides which then results in people performing tasks incorrectly or not acting on the discussions at all.

Could a contributing factor to this be the differences between natural leaders and natural managers?

During my facilitation of learning with aspiring, new and experienced leaders, I often ask: ‘What is the difference between leadership and management? Interestingly, many people think they are the same or they struggle to describe the difference.

A simple way to look at it is this: leadership is people orientated and management is task orientated. This is highlighted in the following quotes.

Leadership: ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things’. 

Ronald Reagan

Management: ‘Management is all about performing pre-planned tasks on a regular basis with the help of team members’.

Nikita Duggal

When we consider how this looks in real life, we need to take a closer look at the attributes of leaders and managers. I have engaged with thousands of people over many years in a variety of activities to uncover what these attributes are. These activities have resulted in over 100 different attributes of good leaders with each one having a varying degree of importance. On the other hand, this number is smaller for management.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more significant attributes of leaders and managers.

Leaders are trustworthy, visionaries with foresight, knowledgeable, great communicators, empathetic, humanistic, accountable for self, ethical, motivators, personable, self-confident, have integrity, strategic, empowering and people focused.

Managers are goal orientated, focused on individual and team productivity, continually improving systems and processes, maintaining team cohesion, accountable for self and team members measured performance and task focused.

Take a moment to reflect on the leader and manager attributes listed above. Consider which of these attributes you can relate to the most and make a note of them. Do you feel more comfortable with the attributes of the leader or manager? Also consider these attributes may vary to some degree depending on the situation or circumstances. Please note this activity is intentionally simplistic.

It may be helpful for you to recognise your choices may be based on your thoughts, feelings and self-perception. Further exploration of this activity with a trusted colleague in the workplace may confirm your results and potentially offer some alternative suggestions. This will help build your self-awareness and recognition of some of your attributes as a leader and a manager.

We then need to put this knowledge into practical use with our team members, peers and more senior managers. If you know the people really well, take some time to consider their attributes then simply ask them how they prefer to be communicated with to confirm or adjust your thoughts. For those you do not know very well, take some to consider their attributes and adapt accordingly.

Here are a couple of tips for your consideration.

  • Be patient with yourself. This is something new and it will take time to become comfortable with this modified way of engaging with others
  • Remember to Stop, think then respond when you feel uncomfortable, meet new people or feel under pressure.

Whether you are an aspiring, new or an experienced leader, consider how you can intentionally adapt to improve the outcomes of your communication with others.

What are you going to do know to make this work for you?


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