Riddell: The difference between leadership and management | SkyHiNews.com

Riddell: The difference between leadership and management

John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.
Staff Photo |

It is very easy and quite common for all of us to forget that companies do not make decisions. Individuals within companies make decisions that change company directions, policies, and strategies. Indeed, it is one of the primary roles of leadership to devise and manage changes that lead to sustainable improvement in the organization.

Nowhere are the responsibilities of management more critical than in running a small business. Yet so many folks never quite understand that leadership and management are two different functions. While there are quite a few books written on both subjects, I have found a couple of simple yet effective definitions to be very useful. Leadership is all about doing the right thing whereas management is all about doing things right. In this day and age, and given limited resources, small business owners might also add “and doing both right the first time.”

Every business manager champions the importance and value of good employees, yet day in and day out we see many examples of employees both unled and mismanaged. A recognized and fundamental role of leadership is to put individuals into positions to succeed, yet too often little time is given to insuring that employees understand just what “to succeed” means.

It is almost as if the manager/owner knows intuitively what “success” is, and he or she expects the employee to know the same through the magic powers of mind reading. In addition, employees are oftentimes expected to just “know” proper procedures.

We recently had an experience where a fast food counter clerk could not operate the cash register. Now that was her job and yet she was put into a position where she was not properly trained and therefore guaranteed to fail. From an employee perspective and a customer perspective, how can this ever make sense?

Every manager should feel obligated to ensure that each of his or her direct reports has a clear understanding of just what are the expectations for job performance. Simply taking the time to jot down these expectations on a piece of paper can do wonders for the peace of mind and productivity of both the employee and the manager. This same piece of paper also becomes a useful tool should the need arise to discuss and address shortcomings in performance. At the end of the day, improvement is the goal and this is a very simple yet straightforward approach to ensuring that everyone is on the same wavelength.

Underlying this goal of improvement is the very real subject of job security. Companies that do not consistently improve ultimately go out of business. Investments are lost and jobs are lost. So an integral part of this improvement drive is also improving the quality of the workforce. Said differently, a fundamental role of leadership is to secure the livelihood of the good employees by making sure that poor performers are released to the marketplace. Good management insists that a proper and legal procedure be followed to bring about this release. Good documentation is part and parcel of this proper and legal procedure.

There’s an old saying that a fish stinks from the head. While a good leader/manager is not solely a guarantor of success, ineffective leadership and poor management are guarantors of failure. I contend that understanding the requirements and then working to be a better leader and manager is the single best use of every professional’s time. In my experience, just the conscious effort of trying produces significant results.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.

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