We don’t know what we don’t know.
The title of manager is often perceived as interchangeable with leader, but are the two actually all that similar?
As a manager, we become part of the leadership structure of an organization, we learn who and what we are managing, we learn the operational scope of our role and how to problem-solve. We learn, often from having done their jobs, to train our staff and propel them toward independence in their roles. We learn acronyms, HR rules, P & L, and the day to day expectations of the weight we carry on our shoulders. Welcome to the team, right?
What we don’t always learn is how to lead. For some this comes more naturally than others, as often managers self identify early on by taking on more, learning as much as they can, and pushing (helpfully) beyond the scope of their position in the hope of additional growth and development. For others, even though we identify ourselves as natural leaders, the sheer undertaking of responsibility that comes with that promotion is underestimated.
You suddenly find yourself on the other side of the looking glass and well on your way down one of many rabbit holes to come. It becomes easy to get caught up in just managing to manage others and get through challenging days as we are learning in overdrive (and salaried overtime), that we have no time left, or energy for that matter, to lead our team.
Throughout my years in leadership, I have read many articles and books on this type of topic, along with those quirky little charts that compare a manager to a leader, often dogging the ‘manager’ side. I am certain most of these charts where created by leaders who were often wealthy or well connected enough to follow their life’s passion or by employees who are finding fault with the perceived style of their own manager.
When I transitioned from staff to manager, I was abruptly awakened to the many logistical, legal, political, and economic realities that I had never before had to consider in my comfortable isolation as part of a team of staff members. In my more singular staff role, I did my job, met my goals, checked my boxes, took on extra opportunities as they presented themselves, received my accolades, and called it a year.
Never did I think that the reason my managers looked so stressed all the time was because they were carrying the tremendous weight of making sure we all did our part, and when some did not, they had to deal with those uncomfortable conversations that included reminders and reprimands, if serious. Never did I consider the fact that the weight of the world was often resting on their shoulders, as global economics, cost of living, and customers being unable to mobilize would impact their day to day so seriously. Never did I imagine that they carried the pressure of constantly being in the “know” even when their employees weren’t being forthcoming or honest. Never did I consider that when one link of the team fell away the whole system could be disrupted – as too often I was only looking at my part.
It is easy to make assumptions about what it takes to be a great manager or a great leader, but until you have been one it is also hard to imagine the challenges and demands they face on a normal basis. It is easy to judge, especially when you are the staff member on the other side of that uncomfortable conversation, it is easy to get angry and accusatory – after all, what is so bad about you being late on a daily basis- stuff still gets done and the customers who are always waiting on you are “fine”. What isn’t easy is applying a perspective that allows you to see your actions, and the actions of that manager/leader, from the other side of the looking glass.
If the quote about leaders being made is true, and I believe it is, what it shows is that none of us are born leaders. In order to get there, we have to manage to manage first, so we can learn from our pitfalls and triumphs in order to become the leader that lives inside our idealistic self. But, like everything, it takes time.
In this series, I will explore the process of managing to manage while we are learning to lead. Through different aspects of daily expectations, interactions, and issues we face in leadership we will uncover both the perspective and potential to grow our own leadership skills. It is my hope that you can come along with me in this journey, as some will be in retrospect, some we will learn as we grow and experience together.
(2) Vince Lombardi