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Are you being a manager or a leader?

Are you being a manager or a leader?
Russ Kathrein

I recently had the opportunity to give a presentation on Building a High-Performance Team at the LBM Strategies Conference in Dallas. When creating the presentation, one thread seemed to keep recurring. Whether it was the beginning steps of building a team or it was some of the more tactical ideas of how to engage your team once you had it in place, all of the steps were dependent on being an effective leader.

Many people in management confuse being a good manager with being a good leader. If you Google the topic “leadership vs. management,” you will find that there have been a lot of articles written on this topic. Some of the most interesting materials are the graphics that list management traits vs. leadership traits. They often make management look bad, overly cautious, or impersonal, while leadership is presented as the enlightened, intelligent, and most desirable trait. In truth, they are both very important characteristics or actions that need to occur in business every day. Leadership provides the ideas that management creates the structure to support. Leadership is strategic, while management is tactical. Leadership is the Why and Where, and management is the How and When. Leadership is about people, and management is about things.

So why is it that so many of us in management/leadership roles spend the majority of our time and energy on the management side of the ledger? We study our profits and loss reports, respond to our emails, attend meetings, take care of customers, and put out fires. Yet none of this makes our business or the people in our business better. If our greatest asset is our people, both the people who work for us, and our customers, shouldn’t we be spending more time leading the people side of our business? Often, we live on the management side of things because we are just trying to keep up. The daily deluge of phone calls, emails and texts can be overwhelming. I know a man who on occasion, when his email was overflowing, deletes everything, and then sends out a note to his team, peers and customers telling them that his computer crashed and he lost everything, and if they had something important they needed addressed, to please resend him the email. This is a brutal and clumsy solution, but interesting.

There are a couple of more basic reasons why we spend the majority of our time with our management hats on, rather than our leadership hats:

1. It makes us feel like we have accomplished something. Who hasn’t come in and set their goal for the day to simply get through all of their emails? Setting time aside to be undisturbed and think doesn’t look good on your calendar, and how often do you feel guilty because you just spent an hour walking around your office talking to your employees, when you could be at your desk getting things done?

2. It is less emotional. Numbers are objective. We can be anonymous on a conference call, and even “icky” emails can be ignored and dealt with later. Talking to your team about the company performance is unpredictable. Coaching an employee is not enjoyable if they don’t want to listen. Confronting your business or personal flaws can be uncomfortable. Yet these are the things that grow our business, our people, and ourselves.

3. It is safer. When you have to present a new idea, or give your opinion to a group, you are opening yourself up for criticism. Yet when you are fixing a procedure or solving a problem in your business structure, that is productive action that is difficult to find fault with. They say that you are not being a good leader until you start failing at some things because that implies that you are taking some chances and testing the limits. Failure is a word that we are taught to avoid.

So, challenge yourself to look at your day and ask yourself “Am I being a manager or a leader today, and is that what is best for my business?” Have you walked around your operation and truly asked your employees how their job is going and if there is anything you can do to help them be better? Have you asked your key vendors what makes a good customer, and if your company meets that criteria? Have you called your customers and asked them what your company can do to make their business more successful and profitable? Leadership isn’t necessarily about knowing the right answer. Often, it’s just having the courage to ask the right questions.

Russ KathreinRuss Kathrein is the President and CEO of Aurora, Ill.-based Alexander Lumber, which operates 22 locations throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.