LEADING a team is a challenging task. As managers and supervisors, you need to master the knowledge and skills to lead your team effectively toward the company’s goals.

It is important for the managers and supervisors to learn and harness both soft and assertive approaches of leadership. A fine balance between them is essential for leadership success.

Management and leadership

The two terms should not be confused. Tom Peters, an American writer on business management practices, said: “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” Hence, there is a fundamental difference between leading and managing teams.

Managers versus leaders

Managers and leaders think and act differently. Managers think incrementally in general, and solve workplace problems systematically – similar to walking up stairs to reach the top of a building. Behaving more like administrators in the company, their focus is to get their staff to complete their work well and on time.

Conversely, leaders tend to think more unconventionally, often exploring out-of-the-box options to solve work issues. Leaders tend to be more like innovators and rule breakers – they find new ways to do things, and bend or break existing rules. The main focus of leaders is people – their personal development and well-being. To them, people are equally important to results. 

It is crucial that managers and supervisors learn to lead more and manage less if they want to be more like leaders, and their teams to do better.

This table summarises the differences between a manager and a leader: 

Subject

Manager

Leader

Focus

Managing work

Leading people

Planning

Short term

Long term

Work style

Plans detail

Sets direction

People

Have subordinates

Have

followers

Preference

Status quo

Takes risks

Recognition

Takes credit

Gives credit

Male and female leaders

Mary D. Poole said: "Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing". In essence, this quote highlights the differences between a hard and soft leadership approach.

Though most would assume that female leaders tend to take the soft approach to leadership, this is a sweeping statement. What can be concluded is that male and female leaders often execute their vision in different ways. 

Increasingly, we have more women managers and supervisors taking on leadership roles at the workplace. I have met a few successful women leaders in the course of my work over the past 17 years, in both private and public sectors.

While there are female leaders who are aggressive, driven and assertive, I have met some who exhibit a softer leadership approach that is no less influential.

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity of working on a training project with the late Dr Diana Young, founder and chief executive of aviation company Mil-Com Aerospace. In the meetings, she was down-to-earth, friendly and approachable to all her staff, regardless of their seniority or ranking. She would chit-chat with them, check on their work and well-being, and thank them when they did their work well. She even thanked the tea lady when she served her tea.

Likewise, one male leader that I consider my role model is the late Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple. I consider him a remarkable transformational leader, who made Apple a top brand worldwide based on the strength of his vision.

The ideal leader

Whether male or female, visionary leaders are highly imaginative and focused on the big picture.

They are positive energisers who embrace failure as part of their journey toward success.

Passionate about their vision, their high energy level excites their employees and fires them up. Such leaders are optimistic and are not afraid of failures. In fact, they see failures as temporary setbacks and strive to apply the lessons learnt.  

Certainly this is what every leader, male or female, should aspire to be.