Do You Employ Leaders or Managers in Your Business? – Jennifer Wyatt Sargent

Manager.  Leader. Are they interchangeable titles for positions of authority within an organisation? Do they actually mean the same thing? A great read by local business, Wyatt Sargent & Associates Ltd who doesn’t believe that they are.

My Thesaurus threw up a doer, a responsible person, expert, controller, dominator and boss for a manager. But a leader is far harder to define.

Over many years in human resources, I have at times been asked to manage major organisational issues.There was, for example, the complete restructure of a manufacturing unit, including the installation of new and unfamiliar machinery on the production line.  When I knew the details, I asked who the staff’s leader was in that area. “I suppose you mean the Operations Manager?” the CEO said, doubtfully. I acknowledged that it might be – if he was the person everyone went to when there were any issues and who took up those issues with management on their behalf.

There was immediate understanding. The CEO laughed and said,“You mean Joe. He looks after that crew like a mother hen, and he’s up here like a shot if he thinks someone’s not being treated right.” That was our man. He was the person we did all our communications through and who we used at every step to ensure that the whole exercise,although radical,was seen to be of benefit to the organisation as a whole, and that every employee in that unit was treated as fairly as possible during the transition.

And in case you are thinking that Joe had the authority of position (Deputy Operations Manager or Supervisor) to back him, think again. Joe was a machine operator. But what he did have was the absolute trust of his fellow workers and of management and, in this instance, the ability to see the direction the organisation was moving in and to inspire and motivate everyone to get behind it. Joe was a natural-born leader.

For a good many years now, NZ employers have tended to recruit “potential leaders,” and if they aren’t recruiting them, they are growing their own by sending staff on leadership courses.  According to Birgit Schyne, Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Neoma Business School, “Most employees won’t end up as leaders. Even those who are leaders have to be followers at some point, either early in their career or even when they are the boss and dealing with those higher up the food chain. Every boss has a boss.”

The more sensible route is for an employer to recruit really good staff who are able to get on with the work without having to be told what to do all the time. And from these people, a true leader will occasionally emerge. What happens to the rest is that the organisation’s senior managers look at them and see diligent workers who are doing a really good job and decide to promote one of them to manager status. If they are lucky, the appointment works out.  The new manager takes to the job, there is barely a blip in their performance as they get to grip with their new responsibilities and the new team works well together.

But too often the promotion fails. The new manager is unhappy, performance drops and the team spends its time grumbling and in-fighting. The new manager is fired. What went wrong? Usually it is that the senior managers equated good employee with good manager.  What they forgot was that a manager usually has to manage a team of workers and for that they need people skills. Not all employees have – or even want – people skills. They are happy doing the job they were employed to do and doing it well. Appreciate that and leave them to get on with it.

Jack Welch, past CEO of General Electric, said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  This probably describes his own approach to leadership very succinctly.

Certainly leadership is not easy to define. Yes, creating an inspiring vision, and then motivating and inspiring others to achieve that vision is important, but it’s more than that. A leader is like Joe, able to gain co-operation from others by persuasion. So I would throw in other attributes like good communication skills, sincerity, loyalty (to the organisation and its people), charisma, empowerment and, most important of all, integrity.

For advice phone Jennifer Wyatt Sargent Human Resources Consultant on 0274715299 or email