What people do just doesn’t make sense sometimes. It makes perfect sense to them, though. You may be frustrated and confused by what others do, but they aren’t. Their thinking and actions make perfect sense to them. That doesn’t make it right, but it fits with their view of the world, their work, themselves, and their values.
Last week I wrote about the challenge of leading from the middle and the associated pressures that come from subordinates, peers, and leaders and managers above. Leading from the middle is an extremely challenging responsibility, and not enough is written about this, given the number of people who are “stuck in the middle.”
Recently, I’ve talked with several people who work in the middle, and each of them are struggling with figuring out how to get leaders and managers above them to see things the way they do. Part of the guidance I offered last week was to not worry about getting others to see things from your own perspective, but instead work to see things from their perspective—specifically through the lens of leader or manager, depending on the situation.
What’s the difference between the way leaders and managers see organizational life? I summarized the difference as: “Managers focus on making today the best possible today there can be while leaders focus our attention on the best possible tomorrow and preparing us to make that a reality. Managers value the present and making it work. Leaders value the future and helping people get there.” The more you understand those two general perspectives the more able you will be to work with both leaders and managers.
Wouldn’t it help, though, to know whether your boss thinks and acts more like a leader or more like a manager? It is rarely an either/or situation. We can’t say that someone is either a manager or a leader. So sometimes it can be difficult to discern which way a person leans. One way to help make that determination is to consider what is important to that person. What do they emphasize? What do they give their attention to? In other words, what do they value?
Understanding what a person values can provide tremendous insight into how they will act. Keep in mind that it is impossible for a person to act contrary to their actual values. (I know that statement will cause people to bristle, but stop and think about it. It is true.) Given that it is impossible to act contrary to your actual values, wouldn’t knowing others’ values help to better understand and even predict how they will act?
Based on years of observing leaders and managers and reading many articles and books that address this subject, I offer the following lists to help you discern whether the people you work with think more like leaders or managers. These lists of values are not comprehensive. Please send me your ideas for other values that should be included.
What Leaders Tend to Value
- The future
- Aligning people around a vision
- Motivation and inspiration
- Resource development
- Openness and critical debate
- History, legacy, and stories
What Managers Tend to Value
- The present
- Organizing people into functional teams
- Skill building
- Resource allocation and control
- Protection and safety
- Stability and predictability
Notice that there is nothing wrong with the values in either of those lists. In fact, I will argue to the end that there is a creative tension between those two sets of values that must peacefully coexist within all organizations for the organization to thrive.
However, for those leading from the middle, the challenge remains to discern whether those around you hold more to the values of leaders or of managers. That knowledge will help you know how to communicate with each person (what language to use and how to present your arguments) and help you predict what that person will do when challenges arise.
Another important question to ask is which set of values do you hold to? Which is more consistent with the way you think and act? Sometimes my coaching clients are surprised to find out they are not what they thought they are. What about you?
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.