Doing the Right Thing: Leadership vs. Management

Stephanie Muczyk
January 28, 2022

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

Most of us know how to do things right. How to manage. How to follow directions, how to ask questions when we need clarification, how to report out on our progress. But who is talking about doing the right things? 

If you had any business classes while in college, you likely have read and know that Drucker quote. It is one of my favorite quotes and one I use to “level-set” when it comes to leaning into leadership instead of management — leaning into doing the right things, and truly the next right thing (thanks, Anna) instead of getting bogged down in doing things right. 

While your signature block might have the words “manager” or “team leader” listed next to your name, living out those titles can be so much more than a promotion and a pay raise. A powerful leader can be a terrible manager and an unassuming manager can be an outstanding leader. The difference is in their actions — their intentional actions. (Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to have these words in your title to be a good leader. You just have to want to do the next right thing instead of the next thing to do on your checklist.)

Read on for some tips for leaning into leadership rather than management.

Trying to connect

Workplace culture, management and leadership topics have been trending for as long as I can remember. There are worldwide conferences and professional workshops, experienced consultants and executive coaches, and more articles and books on management and leadership than one person could ever read in a lifetime. From Richard Bolles’ classic What Color is Your Parachute? to former President Trump’s splashy Think Big and Kick Ass: In Business and Life all the way to Brené Brown’s definitive guide on emotions in Atlas of the Heart, there is so much material that we could spend multiple lifetimes reading, never mind absorbing it and turning it into useful actions.

I will confess it first: I love all of this stuff. One of my prized possessions is an original copy of the first edition of the The One Minute Manager. It was given to me by my grandfather who was an inventor and entrepreneur back in the 70s and 80s, and it has been present on every bookshelf in every office I have occupied. 

I also have a pretty big stack of notebooks in the corner of my office filled with great ideas, sexy quotes, and tips and tricks from all the conferences and webinars I have attended. I have this fantasy that one day I will sit down, open up a notebook and discover it: the brilliant idea, already written down and highlighted, that will unlock all my professional needs and wants. While that stack of notebooks has remained untouched for years now, I am happy to share that I have come up with a few of my own great ideas and sexy quotes.  

Connection leads to communication

One of the biggest struggles between managers and their teams, within almost every workplace, centers around clear and consistent communication. And one of the biggest excuses given is that there isn’t enough time in the day to communicate effectively. The act of prioritizing team connection and communication every day is not a reality for many of us or our managers. We might have calendars filled with “team meetings,” but if communication is about connection, and if our leaders are not connecting with their teams first, the message is bound to get lost somewhere in translation. 

Just think of the paradigm shift that could happen if team leaders and managing directors spent just one minute per day taking a few deep breaths and practicing the words that they will deliver to the team that afternoon. What if the regular routine of designating time to prepare your entire self to connect and communicate with others in a meaningful way was a normalized priority?

Learn how to practice

While it is a cliche, “practice makes perfect” does get right to the point: if you practice, you will get it/do it right. While the current connotation of the word “perfect” seems to be synonymous with flawless, take another peek at its definition, thanks to Webster’s Dictionary: having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. As good as it is possible to be. Not as good as your teammate or better than the competition, but as good as it is is possible to be. 

If you have ever played on a sports team or spent time taking dance or music classes, you probably received advice on how to practice. It might not have been an overt lesson, but every coach knows that the fate of success in sports, dance, music, and quite frankly almost everything, relies on practice. So why should we show up to our work everyday without that same preparedness? The answer usually is time. We don’t have the time, or probably more accurately, we don’t want to make the time. 

Good news! You don’t need tons of time set aside to practice. The truth is that even committing to one minute of practice every day builds a strong habit over time. The length of your workout (if that is what you are practicing) doesn’t matter at all if you don’t ever make it to the gym. But think about the long-term impact if you showed up to the gym every day, did five minutes of squats, and then went home.  

And since most of us live and die by our calendars, get it on your calendar. There’s nothing like a calendar reminder staring you down all day long to motivate you.  

Is it on your calendar yet?

Find a way to meditate

I know that “meditate” can be a scary word. For many of us, the mere thought of sitting for any length of time silent and alone in an attempt to settle the monkey mind is anxiety-inducing. I get it! But it’s worth it. 

Did you know that the practice of meditation has just as many entry points and offerings as our beloved self-help section in the bookstore? Even beyond the articles and books, there are heart rate monitors and head scanners that will light up when it is determined that you are, in fact, meditating. But just like that sports player who needs to learn the play and the dancer who needs to learn the combination, it comes with practice.

Meditation is a tool to help strengthen your mind and spirit. Think of it as a drink of water for your soul, replenishing the dry and rough spots and evening out your body’s entire equilibrium. And just like that drink of water, it is critical for our continued functionality to take a few cleansing breaths and release all that we hold all day. If you need an accessible entry point into meditation, try this video.

Not only will this two-headed monster help you take some deep breaths, it just might make you smile. 

And get this on your calendar, too!

Pay attention to your RAS (Reticular Activating System)

Have you ever had the phenomenon of when you finally decide to purchase that new car, that all of a sudden you are seeing that car, your car, everywhere? Or when you finally brave it and get that cute bob, then notice that everyone else just got their cute new bob too? That’s your Reticular Activating System, or RAS. If you have not yet dug into this incredible and unconscious body function, you are missing out.  

RAS is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through, which is why when you get or learn something new, you start to see it everywhere. This is really important information, because it can be the key to managing differently, both from your perspective and from your team’s.

What we see and hear, especially those things on repeat, like what our bosses and teammates say and the environment we work in every day, matters. Has anyone noticed how much more productive they have been since transitioning to working from home? Remember the days when the inner running narrative each morning on the way into the office was something like, “I would be so much happier if I could just work from home?” 

Where do you want to answer emails from: your broken chair on the concrete floor, or your couch with a warm blanket over your lap? 

Enough said. 

To circle back to my original question about who is talking about doing the right things…I guess I am! The evolution of the workplace continues, but we can shift it dramatically by focusing on leading instead of managing and doing the right things instead of just doing things right.

It takes a truly motivated and courageous individual to prioritize time dedicated to be a better human being. After all, isn’t that what the human experience is about? From the cogs in the wheel that help keep time, we are begging you, timekeeper: spend just one minute with yourself before you show up for us.