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If you google ‘management versus leadership’, you’ll find the topic to be an age-old source of debate, comparison and intense focus in the people development sector. In fact, your google search will likely reflect over 1.3 billion results!

Those of us who have been on a leadership development course, or have a business interest in the area, will be aware of the typical lists and tables out there. These include: ‘Management involves a process, leadership involves people’ or ‘Managers instruct, leaders inspire’. At the extreme, are headings like ‘What great leaders do that managers fear so much’.

Managers often feel that their role is vilified in the presence of the esteemed concept of leadership. But I believe managers are, in fact, leaders. It is their beliefs about themselves and their roles that impact their ability to be effective. How can we motivate managers? Businesses need to rethink how they up-skill the managers in their organisations and how they set about helping them to believe in themselves as leaders. Leading managersif you will.

After all, skilled managers who see themselves as leaders make up the front line for delivering productivity in any organisation.

I have worked with managers from companies across several industries, and have noted the many questions raised when we have the management versus leadership debate. I think it is healthier for managers not to label abilities, and to rather see these ‘separate’ skills or concepts as one entity.

From Middle Managers to Leading Managers

The truth is that most managers I work with find themselves in a difficult situation. People who are sent on management training courses are often labelled ‘middle management’, which is unfortunate. This means that junior staff members report into them, but they are seldom granted true the decision-making power of executive-level staff members. These ‘middle managers’ then struggle to believe that they are employed to be leaders. It is not a motivating place for a manager to find themselves in.

Additionally, managers often feel frustrated about how they are being managed and about their own relationships with their bosses. They want to know why they are not being well managed. But, although it is easy in middle management to focus on one’s own boss, I always challenge these managers to rather focus on the individuals in their teams.

How do middle managers see themselves within this management versus leadership context?

Lockstep recently surveyed 54 managers in South African businesses and found a rather telling statistic:

  • 35 of them said their teams were not operating optimally
  • And of these 35, only five believed they were part of the reason that their team was underperforming.

65% of managers aren't performing at their best because leaders don't know how to motivate managers from middle managers to leading managers in the workplace.So, amazingly, only 15% took any accountability for their team’s underperformance, which is an incredibly low proportion. This brings me back to the management versus leadership debate. I must emphasise that a manager is a leader, however, if only 15% of our managers are taking accountability for their team’s poor performance, then surely don’t believe they are leaders.

Managers need to take accountability just like leaders. Leaders – however, we may define the term – have to accept accountability as a most basic requirement. But, so many of the managers we entrust teams to fail at this fundamental hurdle.


What business needs to rethink; how we set up managers for this position of responsibility and how we prepare them for their role.

People operate on the basis of their ‘story’ – their set of beliefs and assumptions about themselves, their role and everything that impacts on it. If their story is limiting, they will operate from a limited place and will simply not lead effectively.

What’s key in an organisation is to help each manager to unlock their individual story to be empowered to see themselves as a leader in that business.

A parting question, “What story do your managers believe about their role in your business?”

You can download the results of the Leading Manager survey here or contact Rob directly

Rob Broster

Rob Broster

Rob Broster is a Senior Associate at Lockstep and works closely with his clients to help build better workplaces. Focusing on people performance, Rob believes that the workplace needs to be more engaging, ethical and effective. Rob champions the Leading Manager Programme. This 3-5-month programme focuses on developing a leadership mindset in management teams, while providing them with the necessary skills and the practical know-how for managers to succeed.

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