Leading vs. Managing (3 of 7)

(This is part 3 of 7, where I share lessons I’ve learned the last few years as I’ve seen Coaching Actuaries grow from a staff of 5 to 31. In this blog, I’ll distinguish what I’ve learned as the difference between leading and managing.)

Certainly, when your staff increases from 5 to 31, it requires more management. Management focuses on getting the right people working on the right tasks at the right time. Leadership can include all these things, but it is also so much more. Based on what I’ve heard and read, most employees leave a company because they don’t get along with their manager rather than disliking the company.

There are two big things that are essential to leadership even though they may not be the focus of managing. Essentially, the two big things require strategy.

First, the person who is leading is in front. That means what they are doing is being watched by people who are following. It also implies that there are those who want to follow. You may not get to choose who manages you, but you can choose who you follow. Leaders must earn the respect of those who follow them knowing that they can choose not to follow at any time.

The second thing the word leader implies is the leader is looking ahead. The leader identifies what obstacles are in the way of the team and addresses them. The leader knows where they are going and is not discouraged by day to day struggles.

Don’t think leadership is only about the big things. Good leadership is about doing the little things well. This requires executing the strategies. Examples include:

  • Are you more concerned about listening to others than speaking?
  • When you do speak, do you consider how this will be interpreted by those who listen?
  • Are you able to truly listen to others perspectives that differs from your perspective
  • Can you empathize with those who you lead?
  • Do you respect others time by being on time?
  • Do you act like yourself or do you try to be someone you’re not?
  • When the going gets difficult, do you rise to the challenge or make excuses?
  • Are you willing to make difficult decisions that are in the best interest of the team even if it requires short term hardship?
  • Do you bring positive energy to what you do?
  • Are you dependable day in and day out?
  • Are you clear and consistent with your expectations for yourself and others?
  • Do you care about improving enough that you welcome difficult feedback?

In short, a leader is one who inspires others to follow. I don’t want to imply that I’ve achieved any of this leadership level that I’m discussing. I’m a work in progress. I’m learning from other leaders who lead far better than me. The thing is, to some extent, we’re all leaders because we’re all making decisions that others are watching. It doesn’t mean we’re all good leaders, but, remember that others watch what you do and take notes. Your career will skyrocket if others find you as someone worthy to follow.

Part 1: The Challenges (and Benefits) to Growth

Part 2: Why Working Together is Critical for Actuaries