Does People Management Constrain Leadership?

Business Man Pulled Both Ways by Rope

We live in a time of unparalleled influence opportunity. With the power of new and emerging social media tools, it is easier than ever to reach followers anywhere, anytime. So it stands to reason that if “leadership is influence” (Maxwell), we have unrivaled leadership opportunity. As Seth Godin describes it, you can create or join your own tribe anywhere. You do not need a manager or employees reporting to you.

Historically, this was not the case. Managing people has been the most universal sign of “leadership” in business. The more people you had reporting to you, the greater your influence was. However, along with people management comes specific responsibilities, liabilities and expectations from your employer. It’s time to take another look at the benefits and constraints of people management:

Leadership Benefits of People Management

1. Direct Influence

For each person you manage, you have the greatest direct influence. After all, you have responsibility for their career (at least in part), compensation and delivery commitments. As a result, this person should be especially interested in your feedback and guidance. This increases the degree of your influence.

2. Frequent Interaction

In theory, you meet with this person more than most people or, at least, more consistently over time. From these meetings, you can see how the person evolves or slips in performance over time and should be able to assist with course correction.

3. Comprehensive Feedback

As a people manager, you have the unique perspective of receiving and reviewing all formal feedback. If your organization conducts 360 degree feedback surveys, you get to understand perspectives from direct reports, peers, colleagues, customers and other managers. This probably gives you the greatest leadership benefit of people management.

Leadership Constraints of People Management

1. Legal Obligations

As an official people manager in a corporation, you have legal liabilities. You are responsible for ensuring employees receive timely and accurate feedback, among other responsibilities. These responsibilities are amplified and complicated further if you manage international teams.

2. Instruction vs. Mentoring

Manager feedback is typically perceived as an instruction, not optional, perceptive guidance. Mentors, typically chosen by the employee, have the freedom to provide any feedback they feel most appropriate. In contrast, the obligations of a manager shifts their feedback from timely insights to obligatory directives.

3. Time Constraints

The above obligations and perceptions take time to cover. Formally scheduled check-ins, personnel reviews, employee  calibration sessions, 360 feedback surveys, people manager training and more all consume the people manager’s time. People managers should allow at least 5 hours / week for the first person they manage. Each additional direct report should be at least an additional 2 hours a week. This means if you have 5 direct reports, people “management” consumes an estimated 15 hours each week.

Certainly, there are leadership benefits for those in people manager roles and many of us enjoy these responsibilities. Yet, with the shifting culture, the perception of people managers as pre-ordained leaders is decreasing. Influential tools like social media are increasing the ability of anyone to be recognized as a leader. These factors, combined with the leadership constraints of people management shift the pendulum further away from people management for developing leaders.

Question: What do you think? Do people management responsibilities enhance a person’s leadership in an organization or constrain it?

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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