Are you leading or managing?

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This is a question that I frequently ask leadership training participants and those I mentor.  The responses are always geared towards people spending a much higher percentage of their time in management rather than leadership (including CEO’s, which sometimes surprises me).  There is no ideal formula, rather I suggest knowing how you are spending your time and making sure that, the more senior you are, the more time you are spending in leadership activities.

In the leadership training program in Townsville, we play a game called Ling Mong, modelled on multi player Ping Pong, with a ball being thrown from one end to another.  As each person catches the ball, those at one end call out a leadership task and those at the other a management task.  The words are often the same, for example, supervision/mentoring of staff.  The leader would be ensuring that there is an effective supervision policy with organisational support, such as the resources (skill and dollars).  The manager would be ensuring that the policy is being implemented and attending to any day to day needs as they arise.

The leader looks forwards and sees where the organisation needs to be, creates a positive workplace culture, motivates and teaches others to journey towards the destination an d has a plan to get there.  The manager’s role will be to enact the plan themselves and through others in the agency.

The difference between leadership and management is in the application.  Big picture/headline and being a catalyst for change is the leader’s domain.  Implementation and operational activities are the manager’s daily tasks.  If we leave the time division between leadership and management activities on a default setting, many will spend more time managing the day to day crises than looking and planning ahead.

Therefore, make it your practice to know which end of the ping pong table you are batting from – leader or manager – at any given time, reflect on your time percentages at each end and tweak your focus and application.