Gini Dietrich

The 12 Traits of Managers and of Leaders

By: Gini Dietrich | April 18, 2011 | 
74

This first ran on HMA Time, the blog for the agency where my dear friend, Abbie Fink, is a partner. If you saw it there first, you can skip to the comments today. That’s the good stuff anyway!

I remember being a young whippersnapper in the big agency world (come on; it wasn’t THAT long ago!). I could not wait until someone gave me a chance to manage others. I just knew that would be my big break!

The chance came a lot sooner that I expected…or probably deserved. I was all of maybe 25 and a young woman a couple of years older than me was on probation. My supervisor really wanted to give her one more shot at turning things around and she figured it was a good way for me to cut my teeth on management.

I failed. Miserably.

The young woman on probation wasn’t going to make it, but no one told me that. I met with her once a day to review the goals she’d be given and to provide feedback on where to improve. The first couple of meetings were hard – she did NOT want to be there (and, really, who can blame her?). And then she just stopped showing up. She was gone about two weeks after they’d “given” her to me to manage.

From there, I began to move up the ladder, to my great surprise. Who promotes a person who can’t keep someone employed for more than two weeks? But I guess that was just a test to see how I would handle myself; not to see if she’d stay.

But on my reviews every year, I heard a lot of really great things and two worrisome things:

Learn to be more strategic and stop complimenting people all the time. You have to be critical and give people things to work on. If all you do is compliment them, they’ll never learn.

So what did I do? I stopped complimenting so much. Great management tool, huh? And I didn’t get any better. I like to help people feel good about the work they do. I hate to be micromanaged. And I hate process and structure. I assumed everyone worked that way. Turns out those are three really bad traits for a manager.

I began to feel badly about myself and tried really hard to develop traits that I was told made a good manager. I kept stalling.

Managers vs. Leaders

What no one recognized in me were my leadership traits; they were too busy trying to fit me into their corporate ladder box. And I didn’t know the difference between manager and leader (or had the confidence) to be able to say, “Yoo hoo! This isn’t the right fit for me!”

So what’s the difference, you ask?

I love the way the Wall Street Journal defines it:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • 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.

The nice thing is that organizations need both managers and leaders; there isn’t a right way or a wrong way. It’s up to you to define which you are and have the confidence to stand up and say, “Yoo hoo! This isn’t for me!”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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74 Comments on "The 12 Traits of Managers and of Leaders"

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Sean McGinnis
5 years 1 month ago

I always go straight back to Drucker:”Management is doing things right, Leadership is doing the right things.”

Sean McGinnis
5 years 1 month ago

I always go straight back to Drucker:

“Management is doing things right, Leadership is doing the right things.”

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@Sean McGinnis Yep! I almost used that quote as the image. Great minds…

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 1 month ago

Thanks Gini! I had a similar experience (my DR did not make it either) so this really resonates with me. I have never seen the difference between manager and leader outlined this way but it really makes perfect sense. Good thoughts to start out the work week!

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 1 month ago
I think one of the differences is that a manager ALWAYS manages. Or at least tries to. A Leader knows when to lead and also knows that a part of leading is grooming others to lead and letting them lead at times. I think of the concept of servant leadership and those who lead but are actually more helpful because they do things FOR you, not just tell you what to do. Someone with those qualities becomes a leader because others see those qualities and are willing to follow them. Management is merely a set of skills. Leadership is a… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@jgwhitt It makes it a lot easier to understand when you see it outlined this way. Whenever I interview someone, I ask how they prefer to work. Most people need to be managed. That helps me determine whether or not they work directly for me.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@KenMueller One of the hardest things to do, I think, as a leader is to follow. I do it in ways by asking lots of questions and rarely providing an answers. That’s how I groom and it works really, really well.

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich How do they generally put into words that they need to be managed?

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 1 month ago

@KenMueller I think that service is identified too infrequently as a characteristic of true leadership. The leaders I have respected most are willing to lift others by offering direct help or enabling them to help themselves. It’s the principle of teaching a man to fish vs. giving him fish. Thanks for your comment – it really adds to the conversation.

MattLaCasse
MattLaCasse
5 years 1 month ago

Such a great point. We often aspire to advance our careers, and try to fit ourselves into whatever box is presented to us, forgetting that the traits that make us great leaders make us awful managers. It’s refreshing to see a reminder such as this out there every so often. Thanks Gini!

dino_dogan
dino_dogan
5 years 1 month ago

I hate managers and I hate managing people. The problem (one of many) with most large organizations is that they think they need managers.

I think they need better leaders, more socially sustainable business ethics, a better mission beyond profits and people will line up to work for that organization. Not only that, they will self manage.

Love the list btw…

skooloflife
skooloflife
5 years 1 month ago
Gini, This article really resonated with me because I’ve been on the receiving end of a performance review and like that woman I bailed in 2 weeks. I can honestly say I’ve worked for more managers than leaders in the earlier part of my career. In fact the manager who put me on peformance review at one job did so, and then made absolutely no time to see how I was doing. When he called me 3.5 weeks later I told him I was resigning because I had sensed that he had put me in an impossible situation, setting me… Read more »
jeanineblack
jeanineblack
5 years 1 month ago
Thanks, Gini. This gave me something to think about as I am in the process of coming up with a career plan to present to my boss in about a month or so. I work for a 70-person accounting firm in Ohio. When I was hired four years ago as a coordinator, my position was new to the organization, as they’ve never had a marketing/PR specialist on staff. The next step would seem to be to move up to a management position, but with nobody underneath me to “manage” as you put it, I feel I would be more of… Read more »
LynLomasi
LynLomasi
5 years 1 month ago

Excellent post! I’ve been told I’m a leader and I really identify with much of what you said.

DonovanGroupInc
DonovanGroupInc
5 years 1 month ago
BFF – in the time I’ve known you I think you wouldn’t be where you are had you adopted these supposed “traits” verbatim. Being able to stand up and say “yoo hoo this isn’t for me” has afforded us all some valuable insight. Just because you treat others the way you’d like to be treated doesn’t mean you’ll be a terrible or less successful manager or leader…just means you will be different and isn’t that what is great about a free and open marketplace? Much like we let the market decide whether our product is of value…internally our staff let… Read more »
JudyDunn
JudyDunn
5 years 1 month ago
Gini, Thought-provoking post here. I think, definitely, there is a place for both: manager and leader. And sometimes, the leader must also be the manager. So I agree with Ken. When I was a school principal, I was frustrated by the fact that I was expected to “lead” within the framework of the bureaucracy: collective bargaining agreements, state administrative code, school board regulations, tenure laws, etc. So sometimes, good leaders’ hands are tied. And sometimes leaders whose styles encompass collaboration, positive reinforcement and modeling the skills they want to see in their employees can be viewed as weak. Now that… Read more »
nateriggs
nateriggs
5 years 1 month ago

The good news for you and everyone who fits into the leader mold, is that leaders are indispensable and usually get paid more in the end. 🙂

TheJackB
TheJackB
5 years 1 month ago

Managing people sounds like code for babysitting and I don’t do that. While I don’t expect that everyone is going to be an all star I have found that if you give people tools to succeed most will try to do so.

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 1 month ago

Gini, I love the Wall Street Journal’s Management vs Leadership list!

I have had some great management mentors and some poor management stiflers. The great ones truly lead me and the poor ones controlled me.

I’ve found that the best way to manage is to lead. Have confidence in your abilities and bring out the best in others. If I have someone on my team that requires a great deal of babysitting, I’ve got the wrong person and yes, I do compliment. Everyone loves to know they’re on the right track, doing well and appreciated. Even the Leader!

johnfalchetto
5 years 1 month ago

The tricky part in most firms is how the two get along? Too much leadership and nothing gets done well, and not enough, well people loose heart and leave.

The balancing act is a tough one. You can almost tell by the way a company runs, who is running it, the managers or its leader(s).

How do you balance both Gini?

JamesDBurrell2
5 years 1 month ago

A manager seeks obedience; a leader seeks to inspire action. To me, a manager wields an entitled sense of power, and thus, tries to command respect. I’ve never been one to grant respect to anyone before it is earned, and as such, I do not assume to require it of anyone until I’ve earned it myself.

@KenMueller made a great point below. Sometimes a leader knows when to let others lead. Empowerment of others is the greatest thing any leader can do.

KensViews
5 years 1 month ago

While most leaders need to be good managers, one can be a good manager without truly being a leader. The problem is that many managers get promoted into positions of leadership before their leadership skills are honed. I interviewed a number of PR leaders for an article I wrote a few years back on “From Manager to Leader” for PRSA’s Public Relations Strategist. Hope your followers will give it a read and let me know what they think: http://bit.ly/Man2Lead

EricaAllison
5 years 1 month ago
I had to lead a company through a transition once, while managing a group of women who had been there for years and were used to “managers”. It was awful. I got the company out of a hole, built it’s reputation back up, and then helped sell it. That was all well and good for the owner, but the ladies hated my style of managing, which I realize now was more the leadership than the management style. They were very uncomfortable with my big picture approach to things and on snow days in the south…look out if you don’t tell… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@jgwhitt I usually ask questions such as, “Do you perform better with instruction or left to your own devices?” That kind of stuff always tells me if they need process and structure.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@MattLaCasse Or being a young whippersnapper who is such an over-achiever that he/she doesn’t realize fitting in the box just doesn’t work for everyone.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@dino_dogan Actually, I used to think that exact way. And then I got to a staff of more than five people and realized that people really do need structure and process. Most don’t work well in the gray. I do. You do. But we’re not the mass majority.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@skooloflife If anyone should be commended for fighting conformity, it’s YOU!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@jeanineblack Ohhhhh. I like this! PR innovator. Go with that!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@LynLomasi How’s your productive week going so far?!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@DonovanGroupInc Too complimentary?! Is there such a thing??

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@JudyDunn OMG! I would not want to trade places with you for all the money in the world. You just described my worst nightmare: “Collective bargaining agreements, state administrative code, school board regulations, tenure laws, etc.” YUCK!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@nateriggs Unless you own the joint…but yes, the idea is EVENTUALLY you get paid more in the end.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@TheJackB And can you imagine being babysat? GROSS.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@johnfalchetto Uh…I hire great managers, of course!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@janbeery But what I have learned is people need process and structure. Where I thrive on the gray and change and constant moving forward, most people need some sort of consistency. That’s why I’m a terrible manager. But boy! Can I talk a vision and rally people around getting there with laser-like focus. I just can’t get things organized enough to make it structured for everyone.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@KensViews Totally agree that one can be a good manager without being a leader. We had a managing director who was a phenomenal manager, but not a great leader. We made a formidable team because she truly was strong where I was weak and vice versa.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@JamesDBurrell2 I don’t know that that’s necessarily always true about one wielding an entitled sense of power. I always hire managers who can create process and structure so my team CAN follow me. Because that’s where I’m very weak. But (with the exception of one) they never have acted entitled.

P.S. It’s your turn.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@EricaAllison I don’t do both. When I realized I wasn’t good at the managing, I began to hire that skill set. I do hire people who are comfortable with the gray and figuring out how to execute one of my crazy ideas, but I also hire people who are comfortable creating structure. Because, if left to my own devices, I don’t even think about it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@EricaAllison P.S. That’s a REALLY good case study!

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago
Oh I totally wiped out vacuuming the steps a bit ago. Dropped 6 steps to the ground. I have to admit this because @ginidietrich always inspires people with her failures and struggles as much as success. I am here with an ice back on my left butt because I refuse to let this prevent me from commenting! Great post Gini! I agree with you. I notice there are 3 types of workers. Leaders, Managers, and Followers/Peons. And often they don’t like it when people graduate or challenge. I used the word Peons because I have noticed in big companies they… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich @johnfalchetto don’t forget wine at lunch on fridays and hookah brain storm sessions on Tuesdays.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich @TheJackB Now there is a difference between Managing and MicroManaging. And ahem….I know you are a Type Double A Gini but many Type A’s are micromanagers. But I think from getting to know you that you aren’t this way with A-D as much as driven to succeed. Two very different things.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich @skooloflife Real leaders will often have no qualms about mentoring because they will not feel threatened when they spot true talent. Poor managers will often do everything possible to not groom competition.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich @dino_dogan If you look into Automotive or Tech Manufacturing they often are ISO9001 certified which puts structure into everything to ensure high quality and reduced errors. All depends on the type of business. Imagine your car breaking down and someone who built the engine felt they should try something different and innovative vs in the Lab?

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich @Sean McGinnis Did you find out if the Gumby doll was made using the Drucker principles?

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich True, people do need process and structure. Where I think a problem can occur is when the focus is too much on processes and structure and the vision gets lost.

I’m sure you’re not as terrible as you think you are. We all need accountability to some extent and that includes tapping into your peers for input.

IN the meantime, keep your vision, that’s what started your business and will keep it vibrant. Process and structure is an evolution and your’s is in motion.

Just a phone call away dear Gini!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 1 month ago

@HowieSPM How can you type if you have ice on your rear?!

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 1 month ago

This sounds like a Bog title!

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 1 month ago

@janbeery @ginidietrich This is a PG Blog! LOL So I can’t respond like I want too!

feliciahudson
feliciahudson
5 years 1 month ago
Great post, Gini! As a nonconformist, I really identify with all the comments made here, especially @skooloflife’s. Another factor in the leader vs. manager discussion is the company or organization’s culture. Some companies reward conformity (even if you’re not an effective manager) and penalyze individualism. They say they want innovators–but only as long as you can “innovate” within their confines. I know of a company that gives employees a Predictive Index test and hires/promotes people based on the “likelihood” of the person to succeed. If I waited for people to give me their stamp of approval on whether or not… Read more »
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