PM Chronicles #17: Leadership, Management, and Supervision are Different – So What? Part 2, by Fred Parker

On a video conference. Present are:

  • PM – Performance Manager
  • LT – Learning and Talent Development Coordinator
  • TC – Training Coordinator
  • HG – Consultant (Hired Gun)

So, What is the Difference Again?

HG         Hello everyone.

               Last time we agreed that leadership, management, and supervision are different. Can one of you recap what we discussed?

LT           What I got from our discussion is that leadership is visionary, inspirational, forward looking, “Where are we going?”.

               Management is more present tense, related to all of the things, stuff, that must be organized, planned, moved, day-to-day operations.

TC          Yeah. And supervision is also more present tense but focused on people and their behavior and performance. In that sense it seems to me that effective training is part of good supervision.

HG         Great answers!

               Now, based on that, can we begin to categorize normal business activities into either L, M, or S, short for leadership, management, or supervision?

TC          But don’t some activities come under more than one label?

               I think of things like communication, planning, decision making. Those seem to me to be all three.

Thus, the Confusion

HG         Bingo! That is where all the confusion lies. How do we separate things?

               Every day all of us have to act in all three areas without even thinking about it.

PM         Whoa! This seems really complicated. Is it really necessary to pull things apart like this.

HG         Yes, it can be very complicated, and has lots of opportunity for problems. If we are not careful, we can over-analyze – the old paralysis of analysis.

               There is the old joke about the grasshopper who asked the millipede how it knew how to walk with all those legs. When the grasshopper next saw the millipede, it was lying on its side trying to figure out which leg to move next.

LT           So why even bother?

HG         Well, we have to. What do we do about all the stuff already out there?

PM         Do you mean the stuff on competencies, the various 4-box, 6-box, 9-box models, the “strengths finder” quizzes?

               All those analyses become like the millipede’s legs, don’t they?

               I guess we have to deal with it somehow or get overwhelmed by all of the options..

LT           It is a mess. In just the last few weeks I have seen online almost a dozen diagrams purporting to illustrate leadership ideas.

               The other amazing thing, to me, is that all of them were posted by the same organization in advertisements for their management coaching programs.

TC          A dozen? How is anyone supposed to make sense out of that? It sounds to me like they don’t even understand what they are doing themselves.

               I remember when we were just getting started with our recent training efforts you coached us to organize things in groups of three because that fits the way people remember things.

PM         Yeah. You helped us learn that beyond three everything becomes jumbled, but a person will still only recall three topics or ideas.

HG         So, let’s see whether we can begin to simplify things.

               First, based on our definitions of L, M, & S, where do most of your activities everyday fall?

Most of the Daily Work is Management

PM         Hmm. I would have to say my days are mostly management. I have to schedule, organize, plan, report, etc. Those are all management things, right?

HG         Good. What things do you do that might be fall into either L or S?

PM         Well, when we meet to brainstorm and visualize where we want to take our learning, talent, development programs, that seems like leadership. Do you agree?

HG         Yes, setting the vision. What about supervision activities?

TC          When I go to PM for coaching or guidance on our training materials, that is supervision, right? PM is helping me to learn and grow so I can do a better job. Am I right?

PM         I think I begin to see where this is going. But I still don’t get the “so what?”

HG         I think we are finally ready to deal with the “so what.”

               TC, how did you choose who would be make OJT (On-the-Job-Trainer)?

TC          Now I remember. I wanted to move SME (Subject Matter Expert) to that role. SME is our best operator so I thought they would be a good fit. But you talked me out of it.

HG         How did I do that?

How do You Choose?

TC          Well, we discussed how SME relates to the job and to other operators. SME is so focused on the job and just doesn’t really want to take the time to train others.

HG         How would you categorize SMEs mind set, L, M, or S?

TC          Oh, M, of course. SME keeps that line running close to perfectly but doesn’t want to bother with people.

HG         So how did you choose OJT?

TC          OJT is also a highly qualified operator but with the difference that OJT has the patience to work with people, to guide them, encourage them, but still let them progress on their own without hovering over them.

HG         So, you had two people with high management skills, but one with supervisor skills as well. How has that worked out?

TC          Very well. Both SME and OJT are in roles they are well suited for.

HG         What do you think might have happened had you moved SME into the OJT role?

TC          Well, looking back I think it would have caused a lot of problems. Someone, maybe SME, could have been fired.

HG         You have just made my case.

               I have seen many companies move or promote a top operator or technician like SME into a training or supervisory role where they do poorly. The sad thing is, that after a few months, rather than put SME back into their skill set, they fire SME and then do it all over again.

LT           It can also work the other way, can’t it?

HG         How do you mean?

LT           In a previous company I worked for we had a line employee who generally caused problems. They seemed to want to interfere with the other employees, arguing about how to do things. They seemed bored and not really willing to do their own job.

HG         What happened?

LT           We were planning to fire them but called them in for a final discussion. We were also looking for team leader in another area of the plant. The poor performer begged and pleaded to get a chance at that job.

               We gave them a chance and they did very well, to the point of being promoted to shift supervisor a few months later. Based on what we have been talking about, this person turned out to be a good supervisor but a weaker manager.

HG         So you broke the code, it works both ways. As a general rule, people assigned to a role outside their talent or skill set will struggle and may even cause problems. Sometimes problem workers just need to be reassigned.

Training versus Development?

PM         Good grief! We have run out of time again and I still have questions.

HG         What questions?

PM         I still need to get a better grasp on what you said before about training managers but developing leaders and supervisors.

LT           I do too, and that’s my job.

PM         OK, See you all next time.


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Fred Parker is the Director of Course Design and Development at Fred has half a century as a Performance Management Consultant designing, developing, and delivering performance-based training including all manner of technical training, individual development soft skills, and basic leadership. Clients include all sizes from a local sandwich shop to the military to fortune 500 multinationals. Now Fred is converting previous ILT courses to remote delivery courses available on our web site.

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