Managing well is better than Leading

At least it is for me. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” It’s advice I’ve taken to heart, because I know myself. I know I’m a manager first, and leader second.

To back it up a bit, every so often I get this question: “Rosa, why ‘managing with aloha?’ Why didn’t you call your book Leading with Aloha?”

It mostly comes up in the Q&A which can follow my presentations, because I do talk about both managing and leading. One of the first to ask it of me was my agent, before my book was published. He’d read my manuscript and felt it didn’t answer the question, and I didn’t change that; it still doesn’t. So the question still comes up.

I have several answers.
My answer to my agent back then, was that I really didn’t feel qualified to write a book called ‘Leading with Aloha.’ I’m better at managing, and had achieved meaningful, make a difference success by managing, and so I could say more about it, and share more stories about it: I felt the stories I included in Managing with Aloha made it more possible for you, and less theoretical.

Another answer is that I simply want to manage more and lead less most of the time, and so I do. I’m better at challenging others to lead, and supporting them so they can.

I love managing. Love. I’ve learned to enjoy leading.
There’s quite a difference between those two statements.

Elevator Inside the Monument

Another answer is philosophical: I really get annoyed with the assumption that leading is better than managing, for I don’t believe it is. Both are verbs, both are needed in business and in our world, and both can be accomplished by every manager under the sun — if they choose to do so within their Ho‘ohana. I don’t believe we’re born into either one, managing or leading. I believe we choose them, and while I’ve defined a way they go together well in an ‘Ohana in Business culture, I do feel you can choose to do mostly one or mostly the other, managing and leading as a team effort with others.

For most of my life, at least up to the point where I wrote Managing with Aloha, I chose managing over leading. I felt I was better at it, ‘better’ meaning that I was more effective with it. I was more effective as a manager because I admired managing, wanted to do it, believed in it, enjoyed it even when messy and complicated, and deliberately chose it. I had no problem managing within the energies created by others who chose leading as their preference. I preferred it.

One of my old bosses introduced me to an audience once by saying, “Every time I felt I had a terrific new idea, one that would again be testament to my brilliance as a leader, there was Rosa, ready and waiting, eager to say, ‘So I guess this is where you need me again, huh.’ She was eager to get to work, and always there to help me make something happen.”

My response was that it made us a good team, for it did. He was a great leader. Because of my attitude about ‘proactive followership’ I learned an awful lot about leading without having to do it myself back then — most of the time.

You see there eventually gets to be a point of managing well, where to be great at it, you have to try leading. You have to get braver, and bigger, and more vocal. They seem to be times you’ve got to go out on a limb somehow, and take a chance your managing hasn’t yet proven. There’s a first time for everything, a time when there will be no past experience to look back on.

During those times, leading well is about all you can do, and leading truly seizes those starring roles. If you’re the appointed star, you’ve hopefully got enough managing well behind you in other performances and venues, so that others allow you to inspire them, and create new energy in that void of uncertainty. You’ve earned the right to be listened to, and they take a chance with you.

And let’s kick out that word ‘appointed’ in the last paragraph: Leading needs no title. It doesn’t require any positioning on an org chart: It responds to need.

But again, that’s been my own experience. I can only be an expert, or a teacher, with what I know to be true because I’ve experienced it too. In my case, I mostly qualify experiences as “Aloha pukas” [a puka is a hole] — voids in managing, or voids in leading, so I’ll know what to fill them with, or at least where to start.

Any mastery starts with you, and your Alaka‘i initiative, doesn’t it.

That’s why I’ll sometimes switch gears in my writing, and talk about self-management and self-leadership, both of which I believe to be integral to managing well. We have to begin our mastery by working on ourselves first: How can you possibly presume to manage, or to lead others, if you don’t first manage your own behavior, and then manage your own ideas?

I’ll be honest: When I founded Say Leadership Coaching, ‘leadership’ crept into the name of my business because I allowed the good-intentioned marketing advice I got at the time to usurp that position management should have had. And why not? Leadership is a good thing too, isn’t it?

However what I’ve always taught is to invest most of your learning in managing well, and leading well will naturally follow. You’ll lead when you’re compelled to, versus when anyone else says you’re supposed to. I say ‘managing well is better than leading’ because I do feel it has to come first. The greatest leaders I’ve had the privilege of knowing personally managed well in much bigger doses; their leading was the flourish. It was the icing atop a cake which had already been nourishing us.

Can you start to lead in small shifts at a time, with what you’ve already learned to manage well? Of course you can, and I hope you will.

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Archive Aloha: Here’s a Take 5 of related postings:

  1. Who leads? You do. In the Sweet Spot
    Quote: “The trouble with all or nothing is that it is often too intimidating to choose all, making it much too easy to choose nothing.”
  2. Reprise: The 10 Beliefs of Alaka‘i Managers
  3. “What’s in it for me?” is a Self-Leadership Question
  4. Leadership is Why and When and
  5. Management is What and How