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Updated 30 Mar 2020

Are you under-leading and over-managing?

Effective leadership starts with the CEO, but to really run a strong organisation you need a top management team too. Here’s why you should be leading – not managing.

Nadine Todd, 27 April 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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As their businesses grow, many founders struggle to let go of the day-to-day management of an organisation. The problem is that while leadership and management are both vitally important to overall success, teams tend to be over-managed and under-led, and this is often the fault of the CEO, who continues to manage when they should be leading.

Leadership -QuoteBrand Pretorius, South African business icon and ex-CEO of McCarthy Holdings, describes management versus leadership in the following way: “Management is for effective execution, leadership is for vision. Leaders are obsessed with creating a better tomorrow for the good of all. Managers look at today. Leaders focus on people, managers on process. Leaders do the right things in terms of direction, strategy, principles, and values. Managers do things right.”

The key to Pretorius’ statement is that it is difficult – if not impossible, to be a manager and a leader.

If you want to lead, and take your organisation – and yourself – to the next level, then you need a strong management team in place whom you can trust with the day-to-day management of your organization.

The role of leaders

“The development of second tier leadership was critical to our business’s success,” agrees Nicholas Bell, CEO of Decision Inc, an information management company. Bell has grown Decision Inc from a turnover of R28 million to R116 million in three years, and continues that growth with an aggressive expansion strategy. But, none of this would have been possible without a strong management team in place.

“We’ve focused on three things:Creating institutional IPthat doesn’t sit in any one person’s head or is dependent on one person’s skill set;improving our margins; andensuring that the business is not dependent on meas CEO,” explains Bell.

Related: Leadership mistakes you might be making

“One person’s ability to have a vision of the future will never be enough to grow the business we envisioned,” he says. “A strong middle-management level meant we weren’t burdening the top tier, who could focus on top-line strategy, while the business as a whole was delivering on our value proposition.”

This is the role of leadership – to find the right managers, empower them, and then focus on top-line strategy and the matter of growing the organisation, instead of managing its moving parts.

Finding the right managers

“The CEO and top executives should develop the business’s vision and set an example that others can follow,” says Mike Stopforth, founder and CEO of Cerebra. “It’s their role to provide leadership, while managers are there to handle the day-to-day running a business. As a leader, it’s your job to ensure capable managers are in place and that they’re empowered to get the job done.”

But where do you find those managers? According to organisational expert and part-time GIBS lecturer, Siphiwe Moyo, many companies get this wrong. They promote their star performers instead of finding the right managers.

“There’s a prevalent perception that star performers make good managers, when the opposite is often true,” he says. “Most star performers aren’t used to achieving results through other people – they’re good at getting the job done themselves. They’ll find it quicker to just do something instead of managing their teams – particularly mediocre and under-performing team members – and they’re unlikely to feel fulfilled by the management role." 

All is not lost however; Moyo does have a solution. Let specialists stick to what they’re good at, and find the right managers – who excel at managing others – to lead your teams. 

“Stephen Drotter developed a leadership principle that advises two pipelines,” he explains. “One is the traditional management route, and one a specialist route, whereby you can progress up the ladder without managing people. These individuals head up projects, budgets, mandates and so on, they’re at a senior level – but they aren’t managers. Similarly, if you really get to know your team, you should be able to identify individuals who aren’t necessarily star performers, but who understand the business, their departments and people – in other words, who would be great managers.”

Related: Lead your business to high impact returns

It’s an important point to remember. You might want to promote that star performer because they’ve earned the title and bump in salary, but is it the best move for them or the organisation? If your managers aren’t doing what they should be doing, this will eventually impact what you’re doing – and as the individual at the helm of your organisation, your job is to lead; not to manage.

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Nadine Todd

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