Why Nobody Plays “Follow The Manager”

In a meeting this week we were discussing the idea of “servant leadership” and what it would look like. It got me thinking and I shared with the group my experience of the difference between management and leadership.

Managers work primarily with “things.” They hold the world view that problems are things that need to be fixed. Usually, this will result in the assignment of a person to take care of a problem with the idea “who can get this done in the best (fastest, cheapest, most efficient) way?” Making the problem go away is the focus and driver in decisions. A manager is threatened by the success of his subordinates, knowing if they get “too good” at their job they might be advanced to management, possibly sending you out to pasture.

Leaders work primarily with “people.” The paradigm in view is problems are opportunities to let others grow and improve. A leader will be directed by the thought “who can benefit the most (learn new skills, enhance existing talent, stretch self confidence) from working on this project?” Short term efficiency can be sacrificed for long(er) term growth and capabilities from the team members involved, resulting in a greater net value over time. A leader is encouraged and delighted in the success of his people. By building strong replacements it allows him to move into other areas to grow and advance the company even further.

This does not mean managers never work with people or that leaders don’t fix things. It is more where the driver for the actions come from. A core philosophy that views the company as the product or the producer, the cake versus the baker. Both are needed and valuable, just which is ordered first differs for each style.

In my career, I have mostly worked for managers. These were average, normal, even good jobs where I felt good after putting my 40 hours in, to enjoy my weekend and go back on Monday. I think most bosses in America fall into the manager slot.

A couple of times I had the incredible experience to be slotted under a true leader. These people were the ones where you would walk barefoot through burning glass shards to put in your 60 hour week, then despair of having to leave at all. There was no feeling of being a cog in a wheel in a machine. Rather you felt as if you were the most important element of the whole organization.

There was a recent news article about the CEO that cut his salary and raised the minimum wage in his company to $70,000 a year. Whether this is a good or bad decision is not the point in this blog. It is optically clear to me this man was a leader rather than a manager. He demonstrated focus on the people rather than the company (alone). This is the most extreme example I can remember, but it sure sounds like the kind of person I’d like to have worked with, long before this decision. I think a closer review would reveal other people-driver choices (as opposed to company-drivers).

It’s easy to follow a leader, they are out front encouraging you to get up there. Following a manager is not so easy, they’re likely at their desk pointing the way for you to go. If you are a high(er) link in the food chain of your organization, then you can determine what kind of supervisor you will be, one who leads from the rear, or from the front.

When you work for yourself, your choices are more limited, as it depends not only what kind of person you are as a director but what kind of person you are directing. In my consulting firm (BNI/SAR) I am required to manage, not to lead.

I have (am) the worst employee known to mankind…


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One thought on “Why Nobody Plays “Follow The Manager”

  1. Pingback: How To Get Ahead In Business | Phred the Elder

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