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?????In the great excitement of the Total Quality Management Movement all those years ago, a major debate raged over the difference between managers and leaders. The latter were made out to be inspiring, future-oriented visionaries, while the former were depicted as being involved with the nitty-gritty of day-to-day issues. Unfortunately, the weight of the arguments made leaders out to be the desirable ones, and so everyone aspired to leadership.

Coupled with this obsession about leadership was the preoccupation with developing grand strategies for businesses. Perhaps we can blame some of this on the business school phenomenon, where graduates saw themselves as great strategists who did not need to bother with learning the ropes of the business.

Looking back over this debate, one can see that the issue often ignored was that of implementation or execution. Too many people thought that to be a manager made you less desirable, or one deserving of relegation to the sidelines. Later literature – Good to Great (Jim Collins) and The Four Disciplines of Execution (Stephen Covey) showed that leadership without proper execution is a recipe for failure.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham (First Break All the Rules, Now – Discover Your Strengths), drew an interesting contrast between great managers and great leaders: “Great managers discover what is unique about each individual and then capitalise on it. This is the exact opposite of what great leaders do. Great leaders discover what is universal and capitalise on it.”

So would finding out the individual strengths of your team members and getting them to play to it put you in the category of a great manager? Possibly. However, there are two related issues to deal with: one, will the employee get bored in just one kind of role? Two, what happened to the theory of developing an employee’s weaker areas? The new thinking in this arena is to focus on the ‘greens’ (strengths) and ignore the ‘reds’ (weaknesses). As you can see, theories and thinking evolve, and can be contradictory and confusing.

My take on this is: be aware of each employee’s individual style and strengths; talk to them often to see how they wish to develop themselves; make their development their responsibility (with assistance from you).

So, where do you see yourself – as a great leader or manager? Unless you are in a position to employ very able managers to execute your strategies and plans, you might want to develop a better appreciation for the role of a manager.

– Leon Menezes
The writer is a senior HR practitioner, professor-of-practice and executive coach.

First published in the Career Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on May 11, 2014.

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