Lloyd Thompson’s proficiency in handling people and systems has been instrumental in helping many visionaries realize their business goals. Today, he lends his expertise to the podcast, differentiating manager vs. leader.
James recalls his journey from the late 90s when he ventured into understanding management by buying books on the subject. These books differentiated managers as those who simply manage things, while those who show leadership focus on coaching their teams. He muses on the contemporary relevance of these concepts, wondering if the distinction between leadership vs. manager has evolved over the years.
James poses some intriguing questions to Lloyd: How have the roles of managers and leaders changed or remained the same over the decades? Is it necessary to differentiate between the two roles? And jokingly, he wonders if the evolving realm of Artificial Intelligence might one day replace these roles altogether.
Table of contents
1. Manager versus leader: the difference
2. A product of the great resignation?
3. Two very different characters
4. Do managers still have a place?
5. An assortment of past bosses
6. The trouble with the term “A-player”
7. People who talk about A-players
8. The Moneyball recruitment approach
9. When you’re single-player dependent…
10. Needing someone else to be the bad guy
11. How Lloyd feels about servant leadership
12. The other side of being a servant leader
13. James’s take on the term
14. On a fear-based approach
15. Updating your leadership software
Manager versus leader: the difference
What defines a manager versus a leader in the first place, asks James?
Lloyd distinguishes the two in terms of their roles and approaches. Managers focus on command and control, implementing systems and processes, and ensuring team compliance. They are reactive problem solvers who base decisions on data.
Leaders, on the other hand, rally teams towards a shared vision or goal. They create new leaders, enable others, and draw individuals towards a common purpose with a pull strategy.
Leaders typically exhibit higher empathy and emotional intelligence. Transitioning from a technical or managerial role to leadership, says Lloyd, requires cultivating these soft skills, which can be challenging to teach.
A product of the great resignation?
James wonders whether the increased emphasis on leadership over management on social media stems from the “great resignation” after the pandemic. He observes that the workforce’s dynamics have changed, with younger generations leaning towards freelancing or remote work, rather than traditional corporate jobs. This shift challenges the old command-and-control approach of management.
Lloyd agrees, sharing that he too was influenced by the “great resignation.” He prefers to be led rather than managed, stressing the importance of evaluating outcome over strict adherence to working hours.
Lloyd believes that modern leaders should inspire and set direction rather than micromanage, reflecting on his own experience in financial institutions where the focus was often on compliance and task completion.
Two very different characters
Lloyd shares his experiences with two contrasting management styles. He recalls Albert (not his real name), a manager who consistently shifted blame downwards and operated with a divisive attitude. This type of leadership relied on fear and made Lloyd feel undervalued and disposable.
Conversely, Lloyd talks about Pete, a manager who, on their very first meeting, sought to understand Lloyd’s aspirations and goals within the company. Pete’s approach was that of a true leader; he demonstrated both managerial oversight and genuine leadership. Under Pete’s guidance, Lloyd felt supported, valued, and empowered to grow. He noticed too, during Pete’s management, better team retention and a more positive work environment.
Do managers still have a place?
So is there still a role for managers in today’s professional landscape, asks James?
Lloyd argues that both managerial and leadership skills are essential, especially when dealing with new hires, such as university graduates. While these graduates may come in with enthusiasm and theoretical knowledge, they often lack practical experience, making managerial guidance vital.
As such employees gain proficiency, the approach should transition from strict management to a coaching style. The underlying theme is flexibility, much like bamboo – the ability to be adaptable yet firm when necessary, ensuring both guidance and accountability in the workplace.
An assortment of past bosses
James reflects on his diverse experiences with past bosses, highlighting the difference between managerial and leadership styles. He compares one of his most challenging bosses to Darth Vader, a blend of both manager and leader. This particular boss was inspired by General Patton’s commanding approach, and had James watch the Patton movie several times. In their last encounter, however, he came at James with a steak knife, prompting him to find work elsewhere.
James emphasizes the importance of good leadership in retaining employees, noting that in his own recruitment business, they value nurturing and growth, which results in higher employee loyalty and longevity.
The trouble with the term “A-player”
James believes in giving team members independence, and speaks of the importance of choosing the right team members. He strongly disagrees with the popular term “A-player” as he thinks it’s misleading. James believes that individuals can excel in certain areas (being an ‘A-player’) and be less adept in others.
For instance, while James might be great at mentoring, he owns he’s less skilled in tasks like laundry.
It’s unrealistic, says James, to expect someone to be an “A-player” in everything. People’s performance can fluctuate. He believes in matching individuals with the right tasks and understanding that everyone has highs and lows.
People who talk about A-players
Lloyd, too, expresses discomfort with the term “A-player,” connecting it with a dictatorial style of leadership which he believes is unsustainable. He references the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, highlighting the idea of the “level five leader” who exemplifies humility, persistence, and considering the greater good of the company.
Lloyd contrasts this with the more egocentric leaders whose organizations often collapse in their absence. Recounting his experience in the corporate world, Lloyd talks about inheriting a team of technical experts who, despite their individual brilliance, struggled to work with others. He emphasizes the value of team players who prioritize collaboration and collective success over individual achievements or technical prowess.
The Moneyball recruitment approach
James speaks of the “Moneyball” approach, referencing the movie where instead of recruiting top-tier baseball players based on traditional metrics, they use statistics to identify underrated talents that would create a balanced team. This strategy of looking beyond the obvious choices leads to success.
Drawing a parallel, James mentions John Buchanan, an Australian cricket coach who applied a similar strategy, teaching players to maximize their skills and exploit opponents’ weaknesses.
During James’s time with Mercedes-Benz, they actually used the Moneyball system to track salespeople’s performance metrics. As a manager, James highlighted the importance of hiring people with service attitudes from diverse backgrounds, like pilots or hotel concierges, training them to cater to clients’ needs, and using data to ensure optimal pairing of salespeople and prospects, leading to increased sales.
When you’re single-player dependent…
Lloyd and James discuss the dangers of being overly reliant on a single key player, drawing an example from the Chicago Bulls’ dependency on Michael Jordan. When opposing teams recognized this and focused on shutting Jordan down, the Bulls struggled.
The team’s reliance on one star player made them vulnerable, and they had to learn to work more cohesively to succeed.
James cites, too, the popular TV series “Ted Lasso” and how it reflects the Moneyball approach, emphasizing the importance of team balance over seeking star players. He also relates this to his own experience, where he nurtured a team of VAs over time, encouraging them to continuously learn and maintain a balance in their roles.
Another danger of “star syndrome” or a business becoming too dependent on an “A-player” is where that individual gains too much leverage, potentially leading to outrageous demands or an erosion of company culture. This can pose a long-term detriment to the business.
Needing someone else to be the bad guy
Often, says Lloyd, business owners recognize issues within their operations but seek external validation before acting on them. Some owners might be aware of their over-dependence on a particular employee but feel emotionally tied or hesitant to make tough decisions, hence the need for a third party to intervene.
James extends this concept to personal training – he hires a personal trainer to push him and act as the “bad guy,” helping him achieve his fitness goals, a dynamic he has similarly with his own clients.
How Lloyd feels about servant leadership
Lloyd expresses his admiration for the concept of servant leadership, a philosophy that centers around understanding and catering to the needs of individual team members to help them thrive.
He recalls again his former leader, Pete, who demonstrated this approach by coaching and supporting him through a challenging project.
Lloyd emphasizes, however, that while it’s important to understand and address the needs and interests of each team member, servant leadership shouldn’t be mistaken for passivity. There needs to be a balance, and it doesn’t excuse lack of accountability or consequence management within the team.
The other side of being a servant leader
Part and parcel of effective servant leadership is the ability to maintain accountability and set firm expectations. One strategy uses metrics to measure performance – when certain metrics underperform, or when team members don’t communicate issues, there should be a clear consequence. This approach promotes accountability and gradually shifts team behaviors towards desired outcomes.
James emphasizes the importance of consistent communication, particularly with tasks like an end-of-day report, which he views as non-negotiable. Setting minimum requirements and standards in a team environment is crucial, as it establishes clear expectations. If team members can’t meet these standards, it signals that they might not be a good fit for the organization.
It’s essential, says James, to frame conversations around performance in terms of behavior and not the individual’s worth. When someone’s behavior doesn’t meet the team’s standards, it’s an indication that they might be better suited elsewhere, and letting them go can provide them with a valuable growth experience.
Moreover, in a team environment, team members should feel comfortable voicing concerns without fear of repercussions. This ensures that everyone is held accountable and that the team operates well.
James’s take on the term
James appreciates the essence of servant leadership, especially its emphasis on teamwork and equality within the team. However, he finds the term “servant” problematic, associating it too closely with concepts like “slave,” making it uncomfortable for him, especially when considering the responsibilities and risks borne by business owners.
The term also seems to have religious connotations in certain North American cultures, which adds another layer of complexity for James.
On a fear-based approach…
The idea of ruling with fear or being overly authoritative isn’t something James agrees with. He believes that such behavior might stem from one’s upbringing and is not a productive approach to leadership. Resorting to threats or using fear as a motivational tool isn’t sustainable or healthy in a team environment.
James highlights the value of effective communication in leadership and recommends the book “Nonviolent Communication.” This book promotes an emotionally intelligent way of communicating that is neither threatening nor ego-driven. It offers a neutral, calm approach to interactions, making it suitable for various scenarios, from personal relationships to team dynamics. He admits, though, the book might be a bit academically inclined, requiring a few reads to fully grasp its content.
Updating your leadership software
Both James and Lloyd stress that even with their extensive experience and knowledge, they consistently update their skills, likening it to “updating software.” As leaders, it’s their responsibility to be the best communicators possible, and this involves constant self-improvement and learning.
Lloyd touches upon the shift from being a manager to a leader, highlighting that leadership isn’t just about giving directives. It involves continuous learning, seeking feedback, and valuing the perspectives of team members.
Lloyd uses his position to coach his team, and through this, he often gains insights from their approaches. He underscores the significance of leaders being able to communicate effectively, and recommends, like James, reading books that provide the necessary “software” to navigate this change from manager to leader.
In terms of services for organizations, Lloyd offers assessments to those who might need help with leadership in their companies. If interested, you can reach out to him at VirtualDOO.com.
Liked the show? Enjoy all the episodes when you subscribe on iTunes