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!”

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich