Managers and leaders have titles that go interchangeable. That is why it is so easy to confuse each other’s responsibilities, leading to either overstepping the boundaries or underdelivering in the role. Helping us draw a clear line between managers and leaders, Elizabeth Bachman interviews Megan Robinson, the CEO of E Leader Experience. With years of experience and expertise in leadership, Megan discusses why it is important to understand when things are more for management and for leadership. She shares a process on how she has helped organizations overcome this issue and answers the question: “Can you both be a manager and a leader?” Plus, Megan gives her thoughts on what women can do to speak up and show their value and how someone can still become a leader. Join this conversation and learn more about what it takes to take your career to a higher level.
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Management Versus Leadership: The Difference Between Managers And Leaders With Megan Robinson
Before I get into the interview, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by checking out our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are a great presenter, whether it’s giving a speech or addressing a meeting in your organization, perhaps where a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.
My guest is Megan Robinson. Megan Robinson is the CEO of E Leader Experience. She’s been on a journey to make leadership approachable for everyone, regardless of title, position, or expertise. This journey has led her to become the principal at E Leader Experience in which she develops individuals and teams to transform their leadership skills.
Megan’s programs address the fundamental leadership challenges limiting company successes and stalling your core metrics. Megan started her career in marketing and moved her way through the corporate ladder at advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies. Along the path, she clocked in many hours of refining her own leadership skills before starting her own marketing company where she had to learn what real leadership is the hard way.
It was at that first company that Megan discovered that her true passion was the transformational process of coaching, and so she became a John Maxwell Certified Coach and a DISC Trainer. In addition, she’s the Past President of ATDChi, that’s Association for Talent Development in Chicago, the leading, learning, and development organization in Chicagoland.
Having empowered and transformed so many leaders across the country, soon to be across the globe, Megan is excited to bring her impactful and relatable leadership principles to your organization so that your people are walking away with an empowered awareness of responsibility and accountability while contributing positively to your company culture. We had a very interesting conversation about the difference between management and leadership. I know you’ll have a good time.
Megan Robinson, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for having me. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
I’m delighted to have you. You had some interesting things to say about leadership, management, and the endless puzzle there is to solve around leadership and management. First, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you were to interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
For me, it’s Winston Churchill. He’s a historical figure, very classic, and not around anymore. I read his biography a couple of years ago, and it’s fascinating because you hear so much about Churchill. You think so much about the impact that he’s had, the type of leader that he was, and the challenging times that he went through. No small challenges. No small feats at that time. No lack of leadership.
It was World War II. Countries are being invaded, and there are people in the government who want to appease Hitler.
There are a lot of challenges on every front at that time. I was reading this biography, and I was amazed at the style of leadership and the types of habits that he had. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How would that be accepted or appreciated in this day and age?”
Give me some examples.
He was pretty assertive. He was rude to a lot of people, very demanding, curt, and kept very interesting hours. It was situational at some point, but in general, the character of the person and the type of leadership that was celebrated at that day and age and at that time is very different than now. I’ll even put Steve Jobs in that category. If you look at early Steve Jobs’ leadership behaviors and how he treated his team, I can’t help but think that people maybe wouldn’t have stuck around like they did.
I’d love to have that conversation about how his leadership would’ve evolved between the times or some of those mistakes or the styles that he’d do differently. Have that deep conversation about how would it be applicable and what lessons he had from that style and from that time that works now. We are going through a lot of challenges. There is a lot of change. There’s no World War II going on, but we’re pretty going on there.
There’s a major war going on that affects the world, and the world is so connected now. It’s important. It makes me think about the whole history and model of men being commanders and leaders. You’ve got to be bossy and in charge, but now, there’s all “move towards empathy.” It makes me think it’s moving towards empathy for men. Teaching men how to be empathetic like women, and maybe teaching women how to not be so empathetic that they lose their boundaries. We had a show about the difference between empathy and boundaries. Having gotten myself into trouble for being too empathetic and not clear enough, I wish I had known earlier. That was one of the things I had to learn when I first became a boss.
Everyone along their journey finds some times when they need to either show more empathy or put the empathy in balance with other goals.
Balance is the whole thing. You were talking about the difference between being a manager and a leader. How do you differentiate? What’s important about the difference between a manager and a leader?
Managers and leaders have titles that go interchangeable. I think a lot of people stop and think what is the difference between a manager and a leader. They put it all in the same bucket in this general leadership management, power authority, doing things. That’s the kind of bucket for everyone. Breaking it down is really helpful because you understand what becomes more management tasks, what’s more leadership skills, and where you need to develop because you need to have both.
We talked about the balance between empathy and boundaries. Everything in life is a balance. It’s that pendulum where you can’t swing at one side or another. A lot of times in my training and coaching, I’ll focus on the delineation between management and leadership, specifically around people and processes. When you’re talking about management, you’re focusing on how to manage a process.
What are the tools? What are the resources? What are the steps? What is the administration level? What is the process for getting things done? What are the tools and key performance indicators that you have around that process? That is management. The structure that management needs to be successful. People love to rebel. Some people are having a lot of structure around them or people get super focused, and then you get that micromanager that is very picky on all of the specific details. That’s the challenge around management.
Leadership on the other end of things focuses on people. How are the people? Are they aligned with it? What’s their motivation? Are they engaged? How are you connecting with people? A lot of times, you’ll see people issues or people challenges that people aren’t feeling engaged, motivated, or excited about a decision, direction, or change, and then they try to solve it with management and process.
You will fill out this form and you will then enjoy coming to work.
Pretty much, “Right now, we have a process for leadership.” That’s not how it works.
Give us an example, please.
Of management versus leadership?
Yeah, putting in the process whether it worked or not.
One of my favorite processes was around an organization. They had many different departments. Every organization has a lot of departments. Per usual, communication is a challenge. How do you get people to communicate with each other? How do you know what one hand is doing versus the other hand? How are they working together? That’s part of a culture thing.
Some organizations build up relationships. The leaders of those different departments work on fostering those relationships of connecting with those other leaders and people, and some organizations don’t. They get siloed and defensive. They have conflicting challenges. They’re not aligned on the same goals and priorities. That to me is always a leadership issue.
How are you aligning on bigger goals and vision? This organization identified that they were having some communication challenges between departments. People weren’t connecting the way that they needed to in order to get the work done. Let’s have a weekly meeting where all the departments can come together and they can fill out this sheet and tell everyone what’s going on. Do you think that worked out well?
No, it doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like a very old-fashioned way of managing processes and people.
They identified the need. The gap is that people aren’t talking to each other. Different departments are doing different things. They’re not collaborative. Let’s have a meeting and force everyone to sit down and talk about what’s going on. It makes sense. It’s logical. It’s a great process for it, but they didn’t have the underpinning of leadership. They didn’t have the connection, the engagement from the different departments, and the alignment in order for that process to work.
What would you have done or did you help them out instead?
I was working with a lot of the functional leaders of that organization, so a lot of the department heads. I challenged all of them. I said, “If you do this weekly meeting and if you fill out another form for your processes, is that going to help you?” “We all have that blank and that pause.” “No, you guys don’t need another form or another meeting to attend. That is going to be a waste of your time. That will then continue to drag this company down, weigh it down, and get heavier. What do you guys need to do instead?”
It’s opening up that conversation to, “What does their communication look like if it is collaborative? What do those individual leaders need to be doing? How do they need to be reaching out? What do they need to be sharing?” Asking them what that is. Looking at those different functional leaders and asking them what their needs were. What does success look like for them?
Also, shifting it, not because I have that magic wand. I can’t give them a new process for it. They have to create it themselves. Having that space and opportunity to focus not just on what the problem is and a quick-fix solution, but how are you going to adopt that problem into the vision for what you want your organization to come and what you want your organization to be. Giving them the ability to start flexing those leadership muscles and to start thinking about things differently, that’s where the growth happens. That’s where they were able to connect and engage at a different level and show up more with leadership instead of that management toolbox.Giving people the ability to start flexing those leadership muscles and start thinking about things differently is where growth happens. Click To Tweet
Can you be both a manager and a leader? I think you’ve just answered that. Lead and manage. What do you do if you are not in a position of authority or if you have to influence without being in authority?
I work with a lot of emerging leaders, mid-level managers, all the way through directors, VPs, and some executives, but so often, people don’t feel like a leader until they have a specific title. The challenge with that is you don’t show up as a leader without that title. Now you’re off the hook. “I don’t have C in front of my title, so I don’t need to show up as a leader.” That is the biggest misconception and disempowerment that individuals put on themselves.
They’re like, “I don’t have that. I don’t need to show up that way.” I will challenge everyone that the first person that you need to lead is yourself. Being able to have that intention for where you’re going, what you want to do, how you’re showing up, and how you’re contributing to that organization, team, or goal. That is the first piece. Without that, whatever else you do isn’t going to get you very far.The first person that you need to lead is yourself. Click To Tweet
If you don’t have that authority and power in a traditional sense, you’ll still show up with leadership, and I’ll say leadership is influence from the John Maxwell book. Nothing more, nothing less. It is influence. I know many people, without power and authority, that are sitting in the room, and when they say something, everyone turns their head to watch and listen.
That is leadership. That has nothing to do with rank or order. It has to do with contributing positively. It has something to do with being on task, keeping that group aligned, asking the right question, staying curious, and being engaged. Those are the ways that you show up with leadership without that specific power.
A huge part of the work that I do is helping women learn how to be visible, and then show their value by speaking up at the right time. If it doesn’t feel safe in your organization, what can you do?
I would find things that are safe. It’s never everything is unsafe. There are certain topics and certain danger zones. You know when something is unsafe and when it’s safe. Either going to that safety and hanging out there, if you need to, but also, I think there’s a delicate way of challenging that. I’m going to say collaboration tends to be my biggest tool in the toolbox.
Allies is the word I use. I think we’re saying the same thing.
Potentially. You can find an ally or you can collaborate with about anyone, even unsafe people. If you’re able to find some common ground that you can work from, have the same goal, something that you can align to, a similar vision, an outcome, value, or perspective, you’re able to find some piece to build an ally. It sounds like you have a lot of tips and tools on building out those allies, but that is always a safe place that you can go to. Establishing some of those boundaries or safe places, you’re able to challenge some of the things that maybe aren’t as safe. If you go blazing, I can imagine that you’re going to get the results that you’re looking for. You’re not being collaborative at that point. You’re just finding enemies and you’re not creating any inputs.
Often because most of our audience are women. A) Men and women speak different languages. We should acknowledge that and then deal with it. Forgetting that is what gets us in trouble. B) There are things that men can say that women cannot say. There are things that women can say that men can’t say. Women don’t necessarily notice that. They only complain about not being able to say the same things, but it has to do with societal expectations.
I think we’re not trained to speak men’s language or women’s language. Society socializes us to do it. I don’t think anybody does it on purpose. As we talk about that, if you want to step out and you’ve found a safe place to do it, where can you begin to be a leader within your team or in leading your team? Unpacking that, give us an example, if you would please, of how someone without a title could still become a leader or had someone you’ve worked with.
I find lots of opportunities for individuals without titles to become leaders, men or women. A lot of times, I work less with gender and more with limiting expectations or beliefs, or I’ll say introvert versus extrovert. I might say feminine energy versus masculine energy. It’s probably a pretty common one. I do know a lot of men that are uncomfortable voicing their opinion or uncomfortable letting people know where those boundaries are. There’s definitely confidence, authority, or a way to position that.
When you are showing up as a leader without that authority, asking a great question tends to be easy to jump into that. I’m saying that an open-ended, truly curious, non-stupid question is one that you can find the answer to on your own, or you’re generally trying to focus someone in a specific direction. No one wants to be hurt with a question, but if you have a curiosity or if you’re concerned about something, you’re voicing it in that little bit of soft language with a little bit of power of, “I’m curious about,” or “This is concerning because.”
Voicing that whole piece and letting them know what that background gives you so much authority in that space and time. It doesn’t mean that you’re exerting power over someone. It’s that you’re coming with them with that question and build. You’re building something together. It doesn’t mean that you have to take something away. It means that you want to add to it.
If you are leading and you think it’s your direct manager that is hurting the team or getting in the way of the team functioning well, how can one manage up?
Sometimes it’s curiosity. I will say it’s a lot of leadership yourself. It’s the question that you ask. Ask what their intention is. If it’s hurtful, feels malicious, or is confusing, getting clarity around something tends to dispel some of that negativity and negative energy. You’re actually showing up as a leader by helping your own boss or manager.
With that, you’re showing up as a leader for the rest of the team because they’re seeing exactly what you’re doing and you’re helping everyone in that organization. I’ll definitely say being intentional with the outcomes that you want, particularly when you’re leading up. I love the intentionality with outcomes because it’s so focused on exactly what you want to have that conversation and what you need from that leader.
Understanding and being able to voice your perspective in a non-threatening way that, “This is what I’m looking for,” gives you that transparency to align with that other leader. It gives you the transparency to align with anyone, whether it’s someone below you or above you. It helps create that collaborative space. When you are trying to lead someone above you, you can’t necessarily step over them, but you can walk with them in a powerful way that helps make you look even better.
This, of course, would be a private conversation, not embarrassing them in front of the full group.
I’m going to say your approach matters a lot. You are definitely the expert in the tonality, the approach, or how you maybe want to give some of those clarifying and soft phrases to it. You can do it one-on-one. You can do it in a group setting as long as you’re not trying to put them on the spot. If your intention is to make them look stupid, that’s going to be pretty transparent.
However, if your intention is to work better or to achieve a certain goal and you’re focused on that element of it, the questions that you ask, the tonality, and the way that you go about it is going to be more helpful than hurtful. You can always give people the out like, “Maybe I need to take this offline. We can always step away. You want to circle back with someone if you’re not comfortable facing that group.” You don’t want to challenge or out someone. Again, you’re coming at it from a place of how can we work better and how can I get clarity, as opposed to something different.
As we are talking about leadership, does this change when you are a high-level leader? If you’re a senior director, vice president, or at C-level, does this change?
What management and leadership is?
It’s on how you approach the question of leading and empathy. Words like that.
I’m a big fan of, “It doesn’t change.” The same skills and tools that you develop along the way and also not a switch that you flip. “I was an individual contributor and a director. Now I’m a VP so let me flip my switch and I’m going to show up with empathy.” It doesn’t happen like that. You’ve been building that empathy muscle. It is most likely the way that you’ve shown empathy, curiosity, and collaboration. The people aspect, even the vision, and how you’ve been looking for the future or how you’ve adapted to change. All of the leadership mindset and capabilities are the things that get you to that next level. I’m going to say leaning into them more so than the management tasks when you are at that level.
When you’re at a senior level, you want to be a strategic thinker and be shown as a strategic thinker. People realize that you’re a strategic thinker rather than focusing on the details.
Definitely the details. I think strategic thinking is so difficult for people to pin down, like what is strategic or critical thinking? It’s aligning it. Making sure that you have a common goal and common vision. You know what change you’re trying to implement. Having that transparency in communication is what shifts it.
Before the promotion or during the promotion, you have to balance more of those management and leadership activities together. As you move higher up, you’re focusing much more on leadership activities. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that a very high-level leader doesn’t do any managing and the impact on the team as well.
Megan, I want to ask you a little bit about personality types. There was a big article in the New York Times. It’s about how important personality types, personality quizzes, and personality tests are for a team at an organization. I know that’s something that you teach. How do you approach that? Why it matters for those who haven’t ever done it? Anyone who’s done it, you get it. If you’ve done it and you had a bad trainer who couldn’t help, why does it matter and what does it teach you?
A lot of those behavioral or personality assessments, there’s quite a few and they have varying degrees of reliability, but I look at that as understanding yourself and your natural tendencies. What is it that you gravitate towards? Where is your zone of comfort? What is it that people may perceive or understand? All of my work is around behavioral change. We all make choices. We all choose whether we want to behave as an introvert or extroverts.
We choose if we want to behave in different ways with empathy or without empathy. Those can be learned. That’s where understanding your personality, style, or your zone of comfort is helpful to have a starting place and understand your strengths and weaknesses. Also, understand where you may want to shift or how you use those to the best of your ability. I had a client who is big into DISC, and I do a lot of DISC Training.
DISC is a personality type assessment.
They were focused on the C-type or the compliance style. It’s 1 of the 4 styles. That is the best type to have a project manager and they only require project managers or people for their team in this one DISC style. I’m looking at them saying, “That is absolutely not true.” Just because someone has this natural style doesn’t mean that they can’t build other skills. It doesn’t mean that the other skills of the other four styles aren’t important to the success of a project manager.
I look at much as a way to appreciate and show empathy towards different styles and be able to flex my leadership toolkit. Great leaders don’t stay in their zone of comfort. They are looking to connect with people. If you’re looking to have a stronger connection with a team member, a different department, or even your boss and you need to lead them, you have to speak their behavioral style language. In what breath you are getting that alignment so that you are continuing in a path that makes sense for both of you, but that flexibility is what’s most important in styles.Great leaders don’t stay in their zone of comfort. Click To Tweet
The importance of surrounding yourself with people who have different styles and who could perhaps support you in the places where you’re not so great. I could do a lot of things, but I do some of them much better than others. How can you teach a team to accept the value of the other types? For instance, you mentioned introverts and extroverts. If you’ve got some introverts and some extroverts on a team, how would you approach each style to remind them of the value of the other?
It’s funny, I was doing a training and it’s very easy to tell who the extroverts are. They’re raising their hands and ready to answer things and giving introverts the space and the time to process and the opportunity to speak. Every single time that happens, those extroverts are so appreciative and immediately understand the value of the other opinion, very quickly, if given the right situation for it.
I hear lots of extroverts who are too impatient to wait for what the introverts have to say.
Great facilitation will give them that space. It’s not when they’re on their own. I had another coach that I was talking with. He was talking about his client, who is an extrovert. He is a CEO of a company. Everyone on his team is an introvert. He’s frustrated because nobody will give him ideas. No one gives him feedback. No one participates. It’s because he’s an extrovert.
I said, “How are you asking them? How are you being the best leader possible in soliciting the right feedback, knowing what you know about the team?” It changes. It’s not just that me behavior, “Here’s what my assumptions are. Here’s what my expectation is.” It’s, “How do I get the best out of the team? What do I know about them?” Is he asking for feedback immediately? Is he giving them the time to think and process? Is he circling back with people so that they have that space?
That’s where in leadership, it takes some awareness. One of the tenets of great leadership is understanding that everyone is doing the very best that they can with the resources and perception that they have. Also, having a bit of that belief and faith in the team around you. When you are managing closely and you’re seeing the gaps, you’re able to address them, but there’s always a reason for it. Being able to be patient enough to listen, pay attention to what is going on, and make the decisions on what’s the right fit, either for the process or the culture of the team and what’s not should never be a surprise either way on that one. Appreciation, understanding, and awareness tend to always be the first step.
Having a diverse team, personality styles, backgrounds, gender, nationality, and all things that we now try to embrace as diversity, the whole point of it is to get different points of view into the room so that you can make better decisions.
Going back to leadership or management. If you’re a manager, you’re checking the boxes, “Did everyone talk in this meeting? Did I hear everyone’s opinion?” You’re soliciting it in a way that makes them want to share their opinion. You’re curious about the answers for it. When you’re leading without that position or authority, it’s easy to ask the question, “What does Jose think about this?”
If someone has been quiet, you can quickly pass that microphone to someone that hasn’t been speaking. It doesn’t have to be your meeting. It doesn’t have to be the spot where you are leading actively, but you can still show up as a leader by being curious or wanting to hear those diverse points of view. People respect that, especially introverts without putting them on the spot in an uncomfortable way.
Megan Robinson, this has been great and very interesting. If somebody has been tuning in to us and saying, “I need to learn all of this.” Where would you start? What’s the first thing you could do?
I would love to have a conversation with them to understand where they are on that leadership journey. When you say, “Where do I start?” there are so many places, and we all have our own experiences and baggage going along with it. Please check out my website, ELeaderExperience.com. You can book some time with me there or connect with me. I would love to learn more about what that leadership journey looks like for you and where it is that you’re looking to take those next steps.
There are so many factors in all of this that it helps to talk to somebody outside yourself. I would always say, get the question out of your head and out into the air. Talk to somebody who could help you talk your way through it. I don’t know about you, Megan, but I’m the kind of person who, when I’m talking something through will often have the answer come out of my mouth before my brain has consciously formed it. I know people who understand things better if they can sit down and write about it. If you have people that you can go back and forth with, that’s the value of having a coach, having outside eyes who can help you be a bit more objective and make useful suggestions.
For a lot of people in their leadership journey, the first thing they do is start reading. There are a million and one gurus out there who start collecting and information-gathering, which is a nice first step. What you miss when you start talking with someone or when you start writing it down and journaling or reflecting, is that you don’t internalize it and make it your own.
That’s where you start to connect your neural pathways, address those key issues, and discover what it is that works for you and what resonates for you. We are all on a different journey and we all show up a little bit differently as leaders and there are different styles. A lot of power in that, there is not a one-size-fits-all. Until you start to understand and formulate what that looks like, it’s hard to know if it’s working or not.
Megan Robinson, thank you so much for having been on the show. If you enjoyed this conversation, please tell your friends. Subscribe to the show or on YouTube if you prefer that. Most of all, please go to Apple Podcasts and leave us a good review. Apple Podcasts is the one that counts, and a good review from you will help more people get into interesting conversations like this one with Megan Robinson. I’ll see you on the next one.
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About Megan Robinson
Megan Robinson has been on a 15 year journey to make leadership approachable for everyone, regardless of title, position, or expertise. This journey has led her to become the principal at E Leader Experience in which she develops individuals and teams to transform their leadership skills. Megan’s programs address the fundamental leadership challenges limiting company’s successes and stalling core metrics. Megan started her career in marketing and moving her way through the corporate ladder at advertising agencies and fortune 500 companies. Along her path, she clocked in many hours of refining her own leadership skills before starting her own marketing company where she had to learn what “real” leadership is…the hard way. It was at that first company that Megan discovered that her true passion was the transformational process of coaching, and so she became a John Maxwell certified coach and DiSC Trainer. In addition, she is the Past President of ATD Chi the leading learning and development organization in Chicagoland.
Having empowered and transformed so many leaders across the country (soon to be globe) Megan is excited to bring her impactful and relatable leadership principles to your organization so that your people are walking away with an empowered awareness of responsibility/accountability while contributing positively to your company culture.