To manage … or to lead?

A client of mine recently received a lot of pressure at work from one of her supervisors to accept an overseas position.  Don’t get me wrong, the position itself was quite attractive:  a promotion and all the trappings that come with an evolution of this sort, international exposure, and – very importantly – validation of her work.  The question lay more with the timing and location of the new position.  The position’s start date just wasn’t fitting with the needs of her family.  And the geographical location posed some key complications for her partner’s professional aspirations.  So what was a woman to do? 

The feedback she received from one of her managers just wasn’t helping.  He was a, shall we say, transactional manager who snapped to the attention of his superior’s wishes without a moment’s reflection. He laid on the fear pretty thick for my client:  “if you don’t take this position, you’ll make [the big boss] very angry, there’ll be nothing else for you.”  Needless to say, his foreboding words left my client with a tightness in her chest and a heaviness in her heart:  it seemed like she would have to choose between the well being of her family and her career.  Not a very motivating situation for anyone concerned.

Luckily, she had the wherewithal to consult a different supervisor, one who went on to exemplify more leadership traits.  This boss adopted a gentle, father-like tone to her very apparent stressed out demeanor. He explained that there would be times in her career when family and career would clash and that she would need to make a decision about what was most important to her.  In this case, he went on to say, the decision seemed clear:  family comes first. 

Armed with this clarity and encouragement from her leader, my client was able to make her decision with more peace, turned down the offer with graciousness, and burned no bridges in the process.  What’s more, guess which of her bosses she respects and follows more wholeheartedly?  You guessed it:  the leader.

This story brings to mind some of the distinctions between a Manager and a Leader which Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith point out in their book Learning to Lead:

  • The Manager relies on control; the Leader inspires trust.
  • The Manager has her eye always on the bottom line; the Leader has her eye on the horizon.
  • The Manager accepts the status quo; the Leader challenges it.
  • The Manager is the classic good soldier; the Leader is his or her own person.
  • The Manager does things right; the Leader does the right thing.

 Will you, too, do the right thing?

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