Episode 169: Are you Managing or Leading?

Managing or leading

Over the years, I’ve had an adversarial relationship with the idea of leading as I don’t really want to be responsible for people or be in charge of inspirational speeches. What I finally had to realize is that there’s a big difference between managing and leading and that for my business and my headspace, I had to learn the difference. In this episode, we’re asking the critical question: Are you managing or leading?

The idea of managing versus leading is nothing new, but it’s something I’ve personally been working on a lot. The truth is, I’m VERY comfortable as a manager. I’m great at managing clients, budgets and all the strategies and tactics. I’m comfortable in the day-to-day, and it’s very tangible, so it’s an easy default place for me to operate from.

My Inner Conflict

But as my business and my team has grown, I’ve realized that for me to spend my time most effectively, it needs to be less about managing and more about leading.

The problem is that the idea of “leadership” in the traditional sense honestly doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me. One of the reasons I left the career path I was on was because I didn’t love managing a team. This may be my inner rebel showing, but I want to just do the work, and for the most part, be left alone.

Talk about a conflict. And I’m sure it’s familiar to many of you. As a boss, we’re essentially managers, and we’re amazing jacks of all trades. We know how to get shit done, so we manage all day long. The problem is that managing, well, it takes a lot of bandwidth and can keep us stuck in the busy work, in the tactics, in the weeds of our business.

Leading Isn’t Necessarily What You Think It Is

Plus, we tend to have ideas about what it means to lead. We hear the term CEO thrown around, and it feels like too damn much. (Speaking of which, not a fan of the term CEO for that reason and a few others, but that’s a convo for another day.) Let’s face it — leadership can be scary as it’s so loaded.

My friend and client Bekka Prideaux has helped me unpack some of these differences between managing and leading, and here’s my great discovery thanks to her: Leadership doesn’t have to be me on a podium talking to a huge team. It’s what I want it to be, and true leadership comes from the vision and the execution of that vision — not just the hot air of being the leader.

As you think about how you’re functioning in your business, even if you’re a team of one, are you managing or leading? Are you so busy in tactics that you’re not thinking about the big picture? That’s the critical distinction we need to make in our business.

How to Lead as a Service Business Owner

For service business owners, the most powerful way to ensure we’re not just managing but leading comes down to carving out time to work on the business. Not just in the business for our clients and not just only doing the leadership work when we’re forced to.

We need to choose to work ON our business and invest our time and energy into our businesses — the same way we do for our clients. If this sounds completely not doable for you right now, the secret is to start small.

Two things you can do today to help with this:

  1. Put a two-hour block on your calendar this week to work on your business. This could be finding clients, updating your proposal template, or fine-tuning your onboarding. Have a clear idea of what you’re going to do and then consider this time as sacred.
  2. Treat your business as a client. Start your day doing the work for your business first. Sometimes this may be mapping out a new idea over coffee before you dive into work; other times it could be going on a brisk walk to work through a problem you’re facing. Feed and nourish your business so it can grow.

Also, watch for defaulting into extreme management mode as a way to deal with overwhelm or to make you feel like you’re getting something done. This shows up differently for all of us, but it may be micromanaging your team, obsessing over your project management, constantly checking things that don’t need to be checked or any number of things. Figure out what you do when you’re stressing, and watch for that behavior to show up. I know because I’m guilty of all of these things, but when we’re spending our resources here, it’s at the expense of taking time off, working less, or truly leading our business.

Finally, keep in mind, this is a work in progress. You may be in manager mode sometimes and leader mode at other times — particularly if you’re a solo show. I see too many service business owners who are stressed out that they “should” have a team or do any number of things when it’s not critical or even appropriate. Figure out what works for you. In some businesses, you’ll be both the leader and the manager. The key is that you make room for leadership and for working on your business too.

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