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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Leader or Manager?

            I’m hoping someone can help me with something here… When did everyone stop dimming their brights? I blame these godforsaken LED headlights, but it seems like everyone drives with their brights on, regardless of oncoming traffic. My retina is polka-dotted by the time I get home from a night of driving. If someone can lend me some insight, I’d appreciate it.


           For this week, I’m going to dive back into a topic that I’ve mentioned at many points in the past. I think it may be the greatest source of dissatisfaction in the workplace, if not society in general. Frustrations mount, which lead to anger. We grumble through our lives of quiet desperation, just waiting to go off on any perceived wrong we experience. We’ve all been victims of one in the workplace, and we’d go to the ends of the earth for the other. This week’s blog focuses on this:

            Are you a leader, or are you a manager? Or, if you don’t know, are you being led or managed?

            I write this on the day of the Super Bowl, and I’ll use a football analogy to explain how I feel about the concept. Think of the all-time greats on the gridiron, and you’ll hear words like “example” or “leader.” No one questions their authority, and they’re usually on good teams. On the other hand, if you have a good football team, but you’re getting less-than-stellar play at quarterback, all you ask is that the guy not screw up. And if he can do this, what do the pundits say about him? “He’s a good game manager.”

            Doesn’t exactly evoke images of Braveheart, does it? Look at most sports, and you’ll notice that most sports teams are led by coaches. In baseball, you have a manager. I’m not trying to say anything to knock baseball, but I find it interesting. Also, it’s ironic that only the manager wears the same uniform as the team. Coaches don’t do that.

            I think it shows that roles are very different. The word ‘leader’ seems to have a more favorable connotation than ‘manager.’ You see them depicted differently in movies, with the bumbling manager often looking like a weakling, while a leader is a good-looking, confident human that fearlessly points the way.

            In the workplace, a manager sits in the back and watches. They observe everyone’s performance and critique them accordingly. A manager seldom leaves the office, tied up in meetings and other activities that seem tangential to the work being done. Managers force people into a unified place, trying to standardize roles and work. The problem is, we’re all different, and what may work for one person doesn’t work for another. The purpose of standardization is to strengthen the weak, which is something that never happens. The only result is growth inhibition of the excellent, and I’ve said many times that regression to the mean is never a path to excellence.

            Contrast that with a leader. A leader can’t necessarily critique those they lead, largely because they are out front, setting the example. A leader will never tell you to do anything they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves. Excellence comes from others modeling the behavior of the leader. One who leads effectively will seldom bog down their charges with standardized processes; rather, they will set expectations and principles, and it is the individual’s responsibility to operate within that framework. A leader knows the destination and doesn’t have to dictate the course, as long as the team arrives. They empower individuals to pursue excellence, and they only get involved if those they lead seem to be lacking in the philosophy or the principles of the group. Corporate America spends all their time trying to develop leaders but end up with a gaggle of managers.

            The motivations of each are different as well. A manager wants control, and I’ve worked for many who use their position to “boss” people around. There’s no use in being the captain of the ship if the boat happens to be sinking at the time. A leader wants progress, and the less they have to do, the better. When success comes, a manager boasts their own success, while a leader credits their team. A manager says, “do as I say,” while a leader says, “do as I do.”

            In the workplace, those who like to “be the boss” are usually managers. We’ve all seen them, and their employee turnover rates are high. Those that do stay tend to be unsatisfied with their positions. Those who work under a leader, however, are more satisfied and less likely to change positions. I currently have an office manager who is a leader, in every sense of the word. She walks the walk, often filling in for missing employees. And when it comes to my practice, I’ve learned that it is far better to lead patients than manage them. Long gone are the days of, “Whatever you say, Doc”; now, the patient has to be part of the treatment plan, and you’d better have justification for every decision that’s made. I’ve also learned that if I’m not living it in my own life, I have no business telling others what to do. I do my best to “practice what I preach” on a daily basis.

            I hope you “managed” to finish this post today, and if you are “led” to share it with others, be my guest! Follow me on social media! As always, be excellent to each other, and...

Party on, dudes!

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