Distinguish differences of leadership, management to choose the right candidate

June 26, 2017
People with good work ethic and reasonable intelligence tend to learn and adapt, and most succeed over a period of time. Yet the step into true management roles that include supervising other people and assuming a higher level of responsibility is different.

One of the greatest rewards in MSO upper management is the opportunity to play a role in advancing the career of your staff. Especially in today’s tight hiring market, we often find ourselves moving people from one shop to another, filling staffing gaps as well as providing advancement opportunities. I’ve seen many examples where, over a period of time, detailers become parts people, then parts managers, then production managers, then estimators and then shop managers. Or at least many experience some portion of the typical advancement path. Of course, each role has its own needs in terms of talents and abilities. People with good work ethic and reasonable intelligence tend to learn and adapt, and most succeed over a period of time. Yet the step into true management roles that include supervising other people and assuming a higher level of responsibility is different. Here we are dealing with not simply becoming a manager but also becoming a leader. Advancing people into such roles is the most challenging in terms of helping them understand what it takes to succeed. It is also the most rewarding for all involved when success occurs.

What’s the difference?

Wikipedia says, “Management includes the activities of setting the strategy of an organization and coordinating the efforts of its employees or volunteers to accomplish its objectives through the application of available resources, such as financial, natural, technological and human resources.”

Wikipedia defines leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task."

Do you see the difference? Management is about strategy, organization and coordinating. Leadership is about social influence of others in accomplishing tasks. The difference is in the hearts and minds of people!

A manager can probably cause someone to perform a task simply because they told them to do so. A leader will cause that person to WANT to accomplish the task. In the second instance, the person may be motivated by a sense of personal or team accomplishment; it could be that they are inspired to please the leader; it may be that they see the accomplishment as a positive outcome for themselves or others; or it could be for a number of other reasons. But the difference is that the leader caused a reaction inside the person that causes them to have a desire to accomplish the task instead of performing the task simply because they were told to do so. That is the net effect of good leadership skills.

Good managers do things right. Good leaders do the right things.

The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward. Great leaders look outward.

Are leaders born or developed?

A little bit of online research from “experts” revealed a number of perceptions, but most indicated that the answer is “both.” One source said that best estimates offered by research is that leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made. The fact that leadership is mostly made is good news for those of us involved in leadership development. Yet, there are some inborn characteristics that predispose people to be and become leaders. Courage is among the most important traits. Being bold, assertive or risk-taking can be advantageous for leaders. Leaders also need to be smart to analyze situations and figure out courses of action. Intelligence is associated with leadership; perhaps not general IQ, but social intelligence — meaning understanding of social situations and processes — is the component of intelligence that is important for leadership. Finally, some sort of empathy, or ability to know followers, is also advantageous for leaders, although much of this is learned. Interesting how the human aspect, specifically social influence, is a common theme in leaders.

One study involving many Army officers set out to develop a leadership model that identifies the leadership factors that create top performance. The result of the research was a skills-based model of leadership that connects a leader's knowledge and skills to his/her performance. The model is a capabilities model and suggests that people have the potential for leadership as long as they are capable of learning from their experiences. The study concluded that leadership capabilities can be developed over time through education and experience (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al, 2000, p 12.) and is not reserved for the gifted few. In summary, the research asserts that through job experience and training, individuals can become better problem solvers and leaders.

Practical application

I’ve seen many examples of collision repair businesses promoting people into a key management role — often shop manager — before the person was prepared. In some cases the person will never be prepared simply because of their own natural traits. Often the person has been an exemplary estimator. The required skill sets are vastly different. The ability to create estimates, negotiate with insurers, sell work and interact with customers is helpful. But the responsibility to motivate, critique, discipline, hire, fire, maintain performance and quality standards, and be accountable to upper management and owners for shop performance is entirely different. It is, for the most part, the transition from follower to leader. While people like the idea of gaining the new title and advancing their careers, some experience a very unsettling surprise. Some see their shop’s performance decline and are not sure what the cause is. Some have an idea of the cause but they may not know how to fix it. Some have an idea of how to fix it but are uncomfortable confronting the issue. If you have ever been in the position of having to confront a cranky, belligerent body or paint tech who is much older than you are to change their behavior, you understand what I am referring to. It is not for the faint of heart. You may realize that the event will shape the entire shop’s reaction and culture for the near future.

I’ve seen some new managers ignore the issue and occupy themselves in other areas of perceived importance. I’ve seen some postpone the event: “It’s Friday. I won’t ruin their weekend. I’ll talk to them next week.” Or, “if they do it again, I’ll talk to them.” “I’ll bring it up during their annual performance review.” “It’s hard to get new techs. We need to be flexible.” Then often the new manager feels diminished, weakened and uncertain of their abilities and may start to question if they are the right person for the job. In such cases they may not be.

Instead it is up to us in upper management to first select the right people. Remember that leaders must have some natural abilities as well as education and training. Many businesses use psychological profiles as a useful tool to identify candidates.

Become a coach

Once your new manager is in place, it is critical to work closely with them to establish the right leadership insights and approach to issues. Their new set of responsibilities are primarily people issues. Even process changes are dependent upon people and their behaviors. There are a seemingly infinite number of different approaches to people to get the best results. Frequent discussions and coaching sessions with the new manager are invaluable. Help them establish their style. Help them understand what different styles look like, how they behave, and what the outcomes are. Encourage the new manager to read and study management/leadership approaches. Empower your new manager, yet stay close enough to them to “keep them between the guardrails.”

Most leadership books consider the old dictatorial style to be less effective than one that encourages growth and training and communication while empowering people to make more of their own decisions. John P. Kotter, professor of Leadership at Harvard Business school wrote, “Even today, the best performing firms I know that operate in highly competitive industries have executives who spend most of their time leading, not managing, and employees who are empowered with authority to manage their work groups. With proper leadership at the top, it works extremely well.”

Select great candidates and help them to become leaders. The rewards for you and those around you will be incredible.

About the Author

Darrell Amberson | Director, MSO relations

Darrell Amberson is the president of operations for LaMettry's Collision, a 10-location multi-shop operator in the Minneapolis area. Amberson has more than 40 years of collision industry experience, is interim chairman of the Collision Industry Conference, and served as chairman for the 2021-2022 term.

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