Managers and managing have become near dirty words in the business sector. This is unfortunate.

The task of managing has become the Cinderella of today’s business culture, unlike earlier days where the role was recognized and celebrated. “Leadership” is the exclusive buzzword celebrated today, in best-selling books, through consultants and with awards and recognition. While the roles of manager and leader overlap, they are not entirely the same. BOTH functions are needed in the marketplace.

Why are managers needed? Managers use influence to maintain and stabilize—people, systems, and processes.

Leaders can cause a directional change. Managers can maintain a current direction.

Leaders are catalysts. Managers are stabilizers. A boat with no leader has no sails and fails to catch the wind. It might sit beautifully at the dock but it won’t move forward. But a boat without mangers has no stabilizer and will capsize as soon as the wind blows.


The Leader Only Organization

Fill a company’ staff with only visionary leaders and no mangers, and watch what happens. The organization will struggle with practical implementation, as no leader wants the “boring” job of building a detailed process and maintaining a system. Leaders tend to LIKE to change direction, even changing direction for change’s sake. I’ve consulted with leaders who will eliminate an entirely sound process for no other reason than they have gotten bored with it. When this happens, chaos can ensue, with no traction gained on any single endeavor because no solid system or process is established and maintained in order to carry out the vision.


The Manager Only Organization

Fill a company with only mangers and they will plough the field in the same direction, continuing even when a new context implies the need of a change of direction.  When their heads are down, managers are capable of hoeing the row onward into oblivion. They can, at times, become more passionate about the system than the outcome, failing to see a need for change.

Lee Iacocca, the famed CEO, once wrote, "Sometimes even the best manager is like the little boy with the big dog, waiting to see where the dog wants to go so that he can take him there."

Unfortunately, manager has become a dirty word in the business world. While we DO need visionaries and shoot for the stars leaders, managers are needed to bring stability to organizations and their team members.  Every visionary leader needs a nuts-and-bolts personality around him or her to bring the dream to fruition.


The Difference Between A Leader and Manager

The main difference in the function of a leader and manager IS their approach to direction. Leaders can change it; managers maintain it.

Leadership guru, John Maxwell states, “The best way to test whether a person can lead rather than just manage is to ask him to create positive change. Managers can maintain direction, but they can't change it. To move people in a new direction, you need influence.”

Yet in some sense, Maxwell misses the need for both roles to possess influence.


Managers As Influencers

Managers must possess influence on several fronts. Though their influence will look different than a catalytic leader, managers do have the ability to influence, and thus, can improve as managers by growing it.

These can be soft or hard influence tactics.


Here are a few of the ways mangers must influence.

1. To Maintain Healthy Systems and Processes.

Systems and processes allow businesses and organizations to accomplish dreams and reach goals. In order to get team members to buy into and more importantly stay engaged with an existing system or process, influence is required. As humans, we tend to drift towards entropy. That is, we get lazy and fail to engage fully in a system or process as time progresses. Managers must use various influence tactics in order to keep people engaged in the system and processes which stabilize any organization.


2. To Keep Talented Team Members Long-Term

In addition, mangers are typically responsible for maintaining the day-to-day operation of the team. At first appearance this activity might appear to be void of the need to influence. This is simply not true. In the best-selling management book, First Break All the Rules, Buckingham states the top three reasons talented employees leave an organization or start to perform poorly. It is that they cannot answer the follow questions affirmatively.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

Good managers affect the employee’s answer to both of these questions as they influence both up and down the chain. They influence high-level leaders to keep people in their sweet spots, those areas in which they are most effective. They influence the employee to stay in the sweet spot when he or she might venture from this role of effectiveness out of loyalty to help the team with a given project. In this case, the manager must influence the employee that such a venture, though servant motivated, is not in the best interest of the organization.

Buckingham’s third question is do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

Mangers must influence up the chain to gain budget approvals for the materials and tools that, at times, high-level leadership may see as extraneous and frivolous.  A good manager must be able to make the case to influence leadership that spending the money to acquire a needed tool is vital. Without this means of influence in an organization, talented employees may begin to leave the team for other positions where they are resourced to do what is being asked of them.  Proper resourcing may include better computer equipment, software, or a myriad of other tangible tools. It might be soft resourcing, where they need access to other staff members who possess the knowledge and wisdom they need in order to accomplish their role.

(Here are the remainder of Buckingham’s questions, which require managers to facilitate as an added bonus:

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?)


3. Champion Causes

Managers are charged with championing causes, such as watching expenses and, in this day and age, aligning with green and sustainability efforts. As such, managers must champion better internal practices that can drive the bottom line, such as a company-wide effort to reduce paper waste or electricity usage. In conversations with colleagues, they must influence others to allow them to see how closely aligned this desired outcome is with company goals. In conversations with leaders, they must influence them into communicating the importance of such initiatives across the board. They must also influence the boardroom to create budgets which fund these causes.

Great managers are VITAL to any organization’s success and significance. The term manager should be less of a dirty word in the business and organizational lexicons.

As with leaders, managers must possess the ability to influence and grow that influence.

Our FREE Keller Influence Indicator® is a great place for both managers and leaders to begin to measure and grow theses abilities.  You can also take the comprehensive KII® assessment.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina