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The difference between managers and leaders

Dan Fine, Practice Development

By Dan Fine, Business Adviser at Hive Business

Say you order a supersize McDonald’s meal with extra sides and a Diet Coke, does the diet drink make a difference? A manager might say: “Yes of course it does, you dodged hundreds of calories and 30 teaspoons of sugar.”

However an entrepreneurial leader might say: “Forget about the drink. Ask yourself why you ate a meal that you know is bad for you. This happens when you’re on the road and aren’t taking care of yourself. What could you do differently next time?”

Both would be right. Recommendations from managers almost always are. They’re hot on detail and tangibles. Entrepreneurial leaders on the other hand are big on openness — open-ended questions and intangibles — and need other people to implement their ideas. Like Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin they know how to question the hidden assumptions around any activity.

It’s difficult to think about your business when you are drilling teeth, so what often happens in dental practices is the manager becomes the de facto leader. When a well-meaning manager takes their decision-making model into a leadership vacuum it can create the dangerous illusion that everything is under control.

But functional leaders have to make decisions fast without having all the facts, which is only really possible when you can pull back and draw on a strategic approach. The author Richard Rumelt argues that a good strategy doesn’t solve problems, it creates the conditions under which problems can be solved.

The confusion comes in because saying “Diet Coke is the right choice” is not in itself wrong, it just misses the bigger point. It diverts attention from deeper problems and, worse, feels reassuring because you have ticked a box and “something is being done”. It encourages collusion in delusion: the most difficult decision — the one that matters most — is studiously avoided.

This is where many businesses go wrong. Managers are of course vital and a manager who recommends Diet Coke is doing the best possible job with their correct analysis — but it’s up to you, the leader, to take this objective information and then look wider, placing it in the infinitely more complex (real) world where it might be possible to make even better decisions, like avoiding McDonald’s altogether.

Don’t expect your manager to be able to zoom out for you, it’s not their job and it’s impossible to do both at the same time properly. Management is the linchpin of any successful business and without it everything falls apart, so give your manager space to focus on detail. And give yourself space to be detached enough from operations to perceive your business’s strengths and weaknesses, and reconcile them with the opportunities and threats of the less tangible and far more complex external environment.

If you would like to discuss the benefits of a business manager and the roles of everyone in your practice, please get in touch on 01872 300232 or email [email protected].

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