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The Biggest Obstacle: Leading vs. Managing

Posted: May 4, 2017 at 6:22 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

The Biggest Obstacle: Leading vs. Managing

They each have a central role to play, but sequence matters

he year: 1989. Florida Power & Light had just won the Deming Prize, Japan’s national quality award, and became the first overseas company to do so. There were a lot of high-flown speeches in the aftermath and deservingly so. But for me, what stuck were the words of CEO Charles Turner.

“The biggest obstacle to improving productivity is management’s inability to recognize that it must lead the company out of its productivity problems—not manage it out,” said Turner. “There is a great deal of difference. Leading means setting the vision, inspiring others by example, and following up to see that the vision is met.”


Do not confuse managing with leading. Yes, they need each other, but they are not the same thing. They each have a central role to play, but sequence matters. Begin with managing, and you will find it hard to introduce the leader mindset. Begin with leadership, and managing can, will, and must align with it, and become a powerful support.

Managing is a peacetime activity. Its behaviors align: We keep things going and stay on an even keel. We monitor, track, and check. And then we check again. Management is about stabilization. Leadership is about growth. Management creates short-term safety and a knowable future. Leadership creates short-term risk and future expansion.

When I went to school, I dreamt of becoming a linguist. But I didn’t know how to get there from New Jersey. I became a Latin teacher instead. As things turned out, I have become a linguist, of sorts. My field of investigation is the workplace, and the language I study is that of visual devices.

And as I studied, I realized this: The day-to-day visual vocabulary that support effective managers—e.g., KPIs, dashboards, variability—is radically different from the physical vocabulary that supports effective leaders—the operations systems improvement template, X-type matrix, road map, war room. Why? Because the outcomes each is responsible for are radically different.

Leading means deciding and driving. Managing means “making slight adjustments; coping.” Did you know that? I didn’t until I decided to check the historical roots (etymology) of the word “management.” That’s when I discovered that management made its original appearance as the Latin word for hand: manus . Then it traveled into the French and Italian languages and came to mean “handle” ( maneger and maneggiare, respectively). Over time, this morphed into a term that meant “putting horses through their paces.” And so it entered the English language.

Both definitions are revealing. Management as handling a situation (aka, making small adjustments; dare we say coping?). Now we begin to understand what Charles Turner meant when he warned that we cannot manage our way out of our productivity problems. Ross Perot said it another way: “Inventories can be managed. People must be led.”

If we are to get the right meaning, we must first get the right word. The rest—expectations, behaviors, and outcomes—follow from there, quite naturally. And aren’t those important, even mission critical, when we as leaders and managers are entrusted with the life and prosperity of a company and the people who work there?

Yes, every manager has moments of genuine leadership—deciding and driving. Every leader spends much of the day managing, making small moves to correct a situation, not revolutionize it. But the overarching outcome of each position is both different and vital to the company’s well-being. Your company needs both managers and leaders.

Consider these things as you contemplate the current dynamic across your managers, executives, and, yes, supervisors as well.

Adapted from the manuscript of Galsworth’s next book, Visual Leadership: Principles and Practices.


About the author:

Dr Gwendolyn D. Galsworth

Dr. Gwendolyn is award-winning author/pioneer, transforming Fortune-level companies into powerful, effective, visually-smart enterprises. Recognized as the world’s leading visual workplace expert, Dr Gwendolyn Galsworth has been implementing visuality for over 30 years in some of the world’s best and most complex companies. As a hands-on implementer, coach, and author, she has focused on codifying the visual workplace – its concepts, principles, and technologies – into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge and know-how. Read more on Visual Thinking. View Gwendolyn’s full profile at LinkedIn.

This article was first published in Quality Digets on April 18, 2017 and has been reproduced here with permission. Picture “Florida Power & Light Company” has been extracted from the original article. Title picture is the property of ASQ Ottawa Valley Section and not associated with the original writing.

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