Are You Leading or Managing?

I’ve led a couple of discussions recently on the topic of leadership. The groups were very different (undergraduate students/corporate mid-management) but the discussions on what makes a good leader were remarkably similar.

‘Navigation’ statue in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow.
Photo ©Fiona Godsman

What I found interesting was that most of the examples they provided were simply good management skills. They described people with good communications skills, who were empathetic, authentic, trustworthy (had your back), but were also able to make difficult decisions when necessary.

Those discussions made me think about what distinguishes a good leader from a good manager.

For me, that difference is summed up in one word: VISION

I believe a good leader must have a clear vision and be able to inspire people to share that vision. By being clear about what they want to achieve, they can align, motivate, and empower their teams.

Can you be a good manager without being a good leader? I think you can, though it can help to communicate a clear vision, even if it is simply what they want the team to achieve within a certain time frame.

Conversely, a truly visionary business leader may be a terrible manager! If that is the case, they need to work with competent, resilient managers in order to achieve their goals.

Focus on the big picture

Are you more interested in seeing the big picture or the details?

Sky, water and grassland – at Loch Thom © Fiona Godsman
I’ve been experimenting with ICM (Intentional Camera Movement). Its good for evoking an atmosphere without being distracted by unwanted detail.

I love my work, and I love working with people, but I also love getting away from it all! When I do, I take my camera and the images I take tend to make me reflect on work topics too. My current obsession is with Intentional Camera Movement. Its making images deliberately blurry (I have plenty of accidentally blurry photos too), and it works particularly well with landscapes. It means that you take in the whole landscape and how it makes you feel, without getting annoyed about the tree that is in the wrong place and spoiling the composition.
That inspired this blog topic, about the need to see the big picture and understanding the components that make it too. Let me know what you think.

In setting strategy for a business, you need to see the big picture, uncluttered. When working on strategy with a group of people who are passionate about what they do, I find that its all too easy for them to get bogged down in the detail and, when that happens, there is a tendency to lose track of what is really important.

Of course, the details are important. A strategy needs a business plan and the plan requires detail, sometimes a lot of detail. Without paying attention to the components that make up a business, the strategy will not be fit for purpose. Good leadership is about knowing which elements are critical to the business, and having the confidence to allow employees the freedom to work on the details themselves. For a business founder, this is not always easy to do!

Grasses – detail
© Fiona Godsman

For an established company, its the role of the Board and the Executive to keep an eye on the big picture and on the forces that could impact on it in the future.  They also need to monitor the mission critical details through creating the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). For an entrepreneur in the early stages of creating a business, they need to be able set the strategy and work out all the details too. Not many people are comfortable with both of these approaches, which is why the most successful start ups tend to have at least two founders with complementary skills.

Loch Thom, late summer
© Fiona Godsman