Are you a leader, a manager, or struggling to define the difference between the two?
While your role may have an overlap between leading and managing staff, there are crucially different defining factors – and knowing the difference can help prospective leaders succeed.
Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays
Canada, has been with the company 23 years, including more than 20 both managing and leading staff, and knows what establishing a leadership presence involves.
“The biggest difference I would see between a manager and a leader would be that a leader is motivated by the goal that they’re trying to achieve – it could be a project that they’re working, a target that they’ve got in sight, it could be the strategic goal of the organization,” he told HRD.
“And, second, they are motivated by ensuring that the people that are working for are given every opportunity to succeed.”
A manager, on the other hand, is primarily motivated by their job description: “managing the people that are working for them because they’re the manager”.
“A big mistake that I’ve seen managers make over the years is, their top priority is management of the staff, as opposed to the goal they have in mind.”
It’s simple to see which type of leader appeals more to staff, O’Grady says.
“For the leader, people somebody like that inspirational, they find them very motivating. You can follow a person who’s like that, and you want to help and make your contribution. A person whose top priority is managing people, people who work for that guy feel – for want of a better term – managed, like the person’s checking up on how they’re doing.”
Managing, rather than leading, he cautions, can de-motivate staff and leave them feeling defensive.
So, how do you become recognized as a leader?
As O’Grady points out, the job title contains a clue: “If you’re a leader, you should be leading people towards something. That should be a specific named thing. If you have someone in a management or leadership role and they can’t tell you what the goal is, that’s probably the first clue that they wouldn’t be recognized as a leader – if you don’t know where you’re going, how are you meant to get there?”
That applies equally to HR professionals: they need to know what the company’s goal is, and how they’re going to help make it happen – then clearly communicate that to others.
“The leader of the HR department should wholeheartedly believe and behave as if the HR department is the most important department in the whole organization, regardless of what the company does.
“The irony is that HR leaders frequently undervalue their own position and they end up in a place where their role appears to be sorting out ad hoc problems as opposed to being instrumental to achieving the goals of the company.”
A true HR leader also knows the challenges, and their team’s strengths and weaknesses, then takes all of that information to create clear priorities and an actionable plan to achieve the goal.
They should also be disciplined and unafraid to check in on how those achievements are coming along – and if they’re failing, find out why.
“There’s the intangible motivation and inspiration of being a leader who’s got to go out there chasing it, but to be an effective leader and manager, there’s a mechanical element to it to say ‘you have to have all of these things in place if you’re going to be a successful leader and to be recognized as a leader’. And, not only do you have to have them all in place, the team has to know about all of that.
“If they have that, then it’s beyond doubt that that person is the leader.”
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