Manager vs. Leader

[Post by Chuck Krugh, April 28, 2023]

Are you a leader or a manager? Are they the same thing? Can you be both? If you are a good leader, does that mean that you’re a good manager? Is the reverse true? That may be too many questions all at once, but they are important and I want you to ponder them.

Over the last five to ten years, the business world has become enamored with the labels of “leader” and “leadership.” There are many, many definitions of leadership, some simple and others elaborate. How leadership is defined really depends on the source you’re using. You can find definitions of leadership on psychology websites, take whole college courses on leadership, or read explanations written by consultants, not to mention the leadership books, blogs, videos and more. I believe we have beat the drum so loudly about leadership that we’ve drowned out another important aspect of running a business – management, manager and managing. Business management as a developed skill has come into focus for me lately as I consider how to help our team improve.

In a blog I wrote last September, Effective Leaders Influence Others, I provided my definition of what a leader does: “Effective leaders influence people to do things that you need done—the key word is influencing!” This is my favorite, concise definition of leadership. In the same blog, I described many other qualities and actions of an effective leader. At the most fundamental level, a leader influences based on and through relationships. This is one of the primary reasons that I spend as much time as I can on the deckplates. One of my favorite things to do is talking with all of you, whether you work in an office or on the deckplates. Those conversations build the foundations of new relationships. It’s also a lot of fun!

If that is what a leader is to me, then what is a manager? The dictionary definition of a manager is a person that conducts business or household affairs, or a person whose work or profession is management. A person that conducts business? What does that mean? A manager in my mind is someone who ensures that the necessary steps are taken to keep the business running day in and day out.

Let’s break it down a little more: a person in a management position manages the processes falling under that role’s responsibilities to confirm first, those processes are followed consistently (process discipline); second, there is no deviation (if there is deviation then find out why – which is problem solving; and, third, we stay in compliance with those processes to deliver a product or service (do what we said we would do). In other words, managers ensure we meet our commitment as a company by using process discipline and problem solving when a process is not delivering what it should.

If you look at our company through the prism of the definition I just provided, then it means that we should have a lot of managers ensuring that the business keeps going. Each unit or crew has a deliverable that it’s providing either internally or externally, and managers should be making sure that happens at the point of execution by supporting their teams.

We have a large team and a lot of managers because we build and support a complex product.

As we consider management and managing in our company, however, I have another question for you to think about – who holds someone accountable – a leader or manager? To me, one of the most important aspects of a manager’s job is holding people accountable to do the work that they need to do and the work they committed to doing when they accepted their job with our company. Each day when people come to work, a manager’s job is to know what their team is going to work on that day, to make the arrangements that enables the workers to do their work, to assign workers to do the work, to help them complete the work according to the processes in place and then to hold the team or individuals accountable for the results. This involves listening, checking, asking questions and follow up – in other words, communicating with the team as well as the other people involved in accomplishing the task.

To be an effective leader, a person must be an effective manager! Our managers must be able to do both functions – influence people to do what needs doing while also doing the manager functions necessary to keep the company running. There is really no separation between the two – leader/manager. To be at the top of your game, you have to do both well.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten the art of managing – or at least put less emphasis on it than it deserves. Managing isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding. It provides an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself and how to work with others more effectively. Good managers take advantage of that learning to become even better.

Leading a team can be fun and motivating. It’s obviously important to accomplishing the mission. On the other hand, managing can be more difficult: keeping the daily, weekly and monthly tasks going, holding the team accountable, keeping track of problem-solving events, managing overtime and managing the many other things that happen that affect the team.

Our managers need to be able to carry out these functions while growing their capacity for leadership. Our company needs our management team to be both leaders and managers. Our managers must demonstrate the attributes of both roles in the conduct of our daily work – as some situations call for the leader while others require the manager. Knowing which characteristics are required and when is part of both the art of management and being a leader.

If you are reading this and are a person who holds a management position at any level in our company, it is important that you understand when you need to be a leader and when you are a manager. Often you are both. Your understanding of your dual roles and your effectiveness in them is a critical aspect in making our company stronger for the future. We want to support you in developing these skills.

As always, I hope you find these blogs helpful and I appreciate receiving your feedback.

See you on the deckplates!

Safely Execute High-Quality Work

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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