A Case for Great Managers and Why It Matters to Women

A Case for Great Managers

People often use the label “leader” and “manager” synonymously. However, strong leaders and strong managers are distinctly different. As Warren Bennis famously stated, “Leaders do the right things. Managers do things right.” Defining the hallmarks of great leaders vs. great managers is critical in determining if a firm has both. While many articles have been written on this subject, here is my take on the distinction:

  • Great leaders create an ambition and mission for the firm. Great managers help employees connect their day-to- day work to that ambition and mission.
  • Great leaders define what can be. Great managers develop a plan for getting from “what is” to “what can be.”
  • Great leaders develop a compelling strategy. Great managers establish goals, project plans and milestones that provide the team guideposts for effective strategy execution.
  • Great leaders define the culture and work environment needed to achieve the firm’s mission. Great managers create and sustain that environment for their team members, act as role models, and strengthen the firm’s culture by actively resolving conflict around it.
  • Great leaders identify the critical competencies the firm’s people need to master. Great managers recruit, assess and develop people to master those competencies.
  • Great leaders provide a rallying purpose for the team. Great managers clarify the roles and responsibilities of each team member in fulfilling that purpose, and then hold people accountable.

These distinctions do not imply that a person cannot be both a great leader and a great manager. But few people are both, and a company must assess its leadership and management strength to identify and address gaps that will negatively impact the firm’s success.

In my experience, the criticality of great managers is often underestimated.

If you asked people whether they wanted to be known as a great leader or a great manager, most would likely choose the former due to the fact that great leaders are recognized, praised and rewarded more often than great managers. This imbalance results in a myriad of problems, including missed deadlines, inefficient use of resources, mediocre quality, and unengaged employees, just to name a few.

Great leaders without great managers lead to an environment in which the right things to do are identified but don’t get done, a strategy is developed but not well-executed, and talented employees join the firm but do not maximize their full potential. 

So here’s another important hallmark of great leaders: great leaders recognize the value of great managers, and ensure their firm has plenty of them by attracting, developing, rewarding, and recognizing the value of great management.

Why This Matters to Women

Women can be pigeonholed into the “great manager” category, and pushed out of the “great leader” category. In general, a woman is expected to be a “people person” in the workplace, and can be labeled as more nurturing, better at listening, and more collaborative than her male counterparts – traits associated with good management. These conventional ideas are certainly not hurtful to women striving to be great managers, but they are not helpful to women striving to be great leaders, or striving to be the combination of both. Women need to recognize these stereotypes and pursue their own aspirations whether it be great management, great leadership or both. In other words, take control of how you want to contribute and don’t allow others to typecast you.

A women-supporting-women work environment can also make a meaningful difference on this score.  Women leaders can support women managers by recognizing, appreciating and “publicizing” the value of great management. Women leaders can also mentor and sponsor* women managers who want to develop their leadership skills.  A sponsorship relationship between a great leader and a great manager can result in both women entering the small group of professionals that are great leaders and great managers. Indeed, women don’t have to settle for one or the other. Sponsorship relationships can help women maximize their potential as leaders and managers, rise together, and strengthen our collective force.

*Mentorship and sponsorship are distinctly different, and sponsorship can be infinitely more powerful. Here is a great article to learn more about sponsorship.

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