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Are Managers Really Responsible for Employee Engagement?

12 May 2015 - Blog

Are Managers Really Responsible for Employee Engagement?

In traditional business structures, managers have responsibility for looking after teams of employees ‘lower down the hierarchical chain’ so to speak. This implies that managers are inherently accountable for the experiences the people in their teams have on a daily basis.

“So, should this be the case, or are managers given too much responsibility for employee experience?”

Traditionally, managers and leaders were seen to be very different creatures. Managers were responsible for hard skills like budgeting, planning, and hitting targets, and leaders for inspiring, motivating and showering positive energy on the people they lead.

One of the big names in the organisational theory field John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard University, believes the terms manager and leader are too often used interchangeably.

“Management is a set of processes that keep an organisation functioning. They make it work today – they make it hit this quarter’s numbers. The processes are about planning, budgeting, staffing, clarifying jobs, measuring performance, and problem-solving when results did not go to plan. [Leadership] is about aligning people to the vision, that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration.” John Kotter quoted in the Guardian (link to original article below)

But, between the industrial revolution and today’s working world these definitions changed.

The roles of a manager and a leader have merged; managers have become leaders, and leaders have become managers. Unfortunately, due to the confusing definitions of what a manager and leader do, one could be forgiven for thinking the old rules may still apply.

Certainly, there are many organisations out there where these rules are still at play, but in some of the most forward-thinking companies, the traditional manager and leader roles are dead and gone.

So how do we define the difference between a leader and a manager? Well, perhaps, in the traditional sense of the words, neither still exist.


Perhaps what the industry needs is a new name for the rise in manager-leaders… lets call them ‘leadagers’.

Thankfully, people have begun to realise that, without appropriate planning, managers inadvertently engage or disengage teams of people by the systems, processes and other elements of practice they put in place, and by the way they interact with there employees. Managers, and the employees they manage create the culture within an organisation and ultimately, the company culture dictates how the organisation functions.

Gallup research states: “performance fluctuates widely and unnecessarily in most companies, in no small part from the lack of consistency in how people are managed.” (link to original article below)

Managers always had this influence but now people in the organisational development industry are starting to realise the impact what was once a simple manager role can have on growth and productivity of the company. So what can be done?

The Rise of the Leadager

Ultimately today’s managers need to have traditional management skills and a host of leadership skills too. Due to the changes in the way people work and what employees expect of the workplace and their employers, traditional forms of management no longer hit the spot. People want to be inspired, motivated and led by those who manage them. Management is no longer only about planning, directing and hitting financial targets; it’s about, leading and managing teams to create something bigger and better than they ever imagined possible.

Of course, this is nothing new to management theory but in my view if we want to ensure managers are fit for purpose we need to make sure their roles are clear.

To make ‘leadagers’ a reality, managers need to have the training and development opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil the new role. Being a ‘leadager’ doesn’t mean being a Steve Jobs, a Warren Buffett or a Dalai Lama, but it does mean the traditional manager needs to learn to communicate, motivate, influence, listen to and resolve conflict, as well as fulfil the traditional budgeting, forecasting and project management skills. These days, managers need to have a bit of everything if they want to succeed.




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