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Gwendolyn Galsworth


The Biggest Obstacle: Leading vs. Managing

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

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 12:03

The 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.”

Click here for larger image.

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

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.


Leading and managing

Fine, leadership and managing depend on each other is true because if left to leader one can get narrow down to somewhere, at last human is a selfish with various temperments.

Leadership wins...

More great insights from Dr. Galsworth.

I have had the opportunity to make manufacturing my career for over 30 years (mostly in management). During that time I have met very few true "Leaders". I have been around many good managers that could "get things done" with or without the participation of the people. But the damage these managers left to the culture in their wake was significant.

In my 30 years I have worked at 6 companies but only one company that is still thriving. The one that is still thriving is due to excpetional leadership. In my current role as a management consultant I work with small manufacturing organizations and the understanding of leadership is critical to their survival.

I would be interested in what single trait, characteristic or action Dr Gaslworth considers the most critical in a potential new leader? What is the one thing that a small manufacturer leader can do to be a leader instead of a manager?

Quality Digest keep up the great articles.

Which single trait

I'm by no means representing Dr Galsworth but would find that true leadership starts with 2 very important traits.

The ability to Listen

The ability to empahthize

I would be interested to hear her thoughts on this as well.    Thank you for the article & reminder as a fellow leader.